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Clean-up continues in Willard

Scott Seitz2 • Nov 29, 2013 at 2:44 PM

Many families were returning to their homes on Thanksgiving after a rail yard chemical spill late Tuesday caused nearly 400 residences to be evacuated.

Brian Humphress, Willard city manager, said residents of Pleasant Street might have to wait until Friday to return home.

Just after 11 p.m. Tuesday, a CSX rail car derailed and was breached, releasing more than 12,000 gallons of styrene monomer -- a chemical used for the production of rubber and plastic. The Pleasant Street area was closest to the site of the CSX spill.

The chemical spill led to the evacuations. Displaced residents stayed in hotels in Willard and the surrounding areas. Restaurants such as Uncle Dudley's and the Willard Country Kitchen served meals to displaced residents Wednesday night.

About 250 residents who had not yet been given the green light to return home were treated to a Thanksgiving meal at Willard High School, compliments of CSX, on Thursday afternoon.

Gov. John Kasich mingled with displaced residents Thursday at the high school, offering a bit of cheer and encouragement for the evacuees who were spending the holiday away from their homes.

Kasich spoke with the media for a few minutes afterward.

"Willard is an example of how you do it right," the governor said about persevering through a difficult situation.

"We'll take a look at the lessons learned," he added about the entire evacuation and cleanup process.

"This is all about getting people back in their homes," Kasich said.

Humphress added that CSX and a number of other state officials are currently investigating what caused the rail car to derail and ultimately breach and spill.

"CSX is looking at why this happened," the governor said when asked for details about the incident.

Humphress said the No. 1 priority is making sure all the residents are taken care of.

Washington Street resident Debbie Reeder was at the high school Thursday, saying she would likely be back in her home later that day.

Washington Street is about a half-mile from the spill, she said.

"My husband is out there now, going through the house," Reeder said.

The Reeder family spent the Wednesday evening at the Holiday Inn in Tiffin, compliments of CSX.

They had planned on celebrating Thanksgiving on Thursday at her Willard home.

"We'll probably do something as a family on Saturday or Sunday," Reeder said.

Reeder, who has lived in Willard her entire life, said fruit cars had derailed over the years.

"But never a chemical spill this bad," she said.

Gary Ousley, Huron County dog warden, said personnel removed about 15 dogs that are now housed at the dog warden's office or the Huron County Humane Society shelter in Norwalk.

"On top of that, there were about 25 other dogs that were released to the owners," Ousley said.

"We were just grabbing and going," he added. "There were dogs, parrots, cats."

Ousley said some residents decided to leave their pets at the homes because the air quality was deemed safe for pets.

Ousley has lived in Willard for 59 years.

"We've had derailments, but no evacuations," he said.

Humphress updated residents via Twitter on Thursday afternoon.

"We have ended the evacuation zone for most of the potentially affected area surrounding the Tuesday night chemical spill," he said, adding 370 households were safe to return to.

The Pleasant Street area was still off limits at that time. That also included three homes on North Main Street and one on Church Street. These areas are closest to the spill.

Humphress Tweeted again late Thursday, announcing all residents except those residing at 119 and 121 Pleasant St., 209 N. Main and 119 Church St. were permitted to return home. Residents still under evacuation can call (877) TELL-CSX.

"On this Thanksgiving Day, when we remember our blessings, it gives me great pleasure to tell our neighbors that it is safe to return to their homes," Fire Chief Joe Reiderman said. "I want to thank our community for its support and patience in this difficult process."

Air-monitoring in the area has consistently proven the air to be safe, despite a minor odor. This odor should disappear in the next few days, officials said.

Willard High School, operating as a Community Outreach Center, will remain open at least through the weekend to assist evacuated residents.

Beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday, residents of the impacted area will have the opportunity to present itemization of costs incurred. CSX representatives will be at the Christian Alliance Church at that time to receive this information.

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