By Dari Kotzker
The residents of the 48 houses closest to the train derailment and chemical spill in Paulsboro are being told that they may not be allowed to return to their homes for more than a week. The rest of Paulsboro was issued an order to shelter in place for several hours today after officials saw a spike in air quality assessment. Residents have a lot of questions.
“One minute you can go outside, the next minute you’re told to stay inside, close your windows, don’t breathe, it’s crazy,” said Paulsboro resident Cindy Holloway. “I’m concerned about my son who’s missing half a lung. I have a granddaughter who’s 1 and a half years old. There’s children in the town that are being affected by this.”
The New Jersey DEP says they are constantly monitoring the air with set and mobile equipment. The remediation process of the toxic chemical vinyl chloride is still happening at the train derailment site. During this process, residents are complaining about the lack of communication from officials.
“They told us to stay in the house, close the windows, Friday morning at 7 o’clock. They didn’t come to us until 8 o’clock at night to evacuate us. That means fumes are in our bodies, my kids, I have three kids,” said Paulsboro resident Coren Warrington.
“We’re hearing it from other people in town. I’ve been here for 35 years, I practically know everybody in town, so I got family members and friends that are coming in and out of here and giving me a little information and we’re not even hearing it from any officials,” said Paulsboro resident James Harden.
The joint information center says the best way to stay informed is following media reports and reverse 911. There is also an assistance center in Gibbstown to answer questions about the evacuation zone and get vouchers from Conrail for monetary assistance. Meanwhile at a press conference today, the NTSB reported there have been 23 trouble tickets for the collapsed bridge since December 2011, and one was the day before the accident. The chairman also added that Conrail visually inspected it after Hurricane Sandy hit. The NTSB is in the preliminary phase of the investigation, but representatives say that the train crew followed correct procedures.
“Whether or not those procedures are adequate or whether or not they’re conservative enough, those are things that we will be looking at. If we identify safety areas that we think need immediate attention, we have the ability to issue recommendations, safety recommendations and our team is looking at everything right now,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman.
The National Transportation Safety Board chairman still doesn’t know when her team of investigators will gain access to the site, but she says they are prepared and ready to go. She also says they will not determine probable cause on the scene.