DERAILED: Disaster in East Palestine

Ohio community calls for support, accountability after derailment

About two weeks after the crash, locals still complain about headaches and irritated eyes and find their cars and lawns covered in soot.

Ohio community calls for support, accountability after derailment
Gene J. Puskar / AP
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As the powerful tread carefully in East Palestine, Ohio, those who needed the most help were miles away asking for it. 

"Missed work, work called and said we’re letting you go. So I lost my job because of this," said Franklin O’Neil, an East Palestine resident. 

Franklin and Courtney O’Neil have three young children. They live in the disaster zone close to the train wreck that sent toxic smoke above the village and material seeping into the ground water.  

"It’s hard, my throat’s been burning, I’ve been coughing a lot," O'Neil said. 

They and dozens of others in the area came to a church where Norfolk Southern, the rail company that owns the line, was offering cash assistance. Some of those in line waited up to four hours for thousand-dollar checks per member of a family. 

"It really ain’t much considering what we’ve had to go through," O'Neil said. 

Locals complained the company cut checks with legal strings attached.  

"We’ve made it very clear that that is just plain wrong, that nobody should sign away their legal rights to get a check from Norfolk Southern," said Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Both of Ohio’s U.S. senators toured the town, vowing accountability for the rail company. 

"We need to give this community long term confidence that their health is protected," said Sen. J.D. Vance.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Administrator was checking on Norfolk Southern’s clean up efforts. In addition, the EPA is monitoring the water and the air. 

Senators, EPA chief travel to Ohio over train chemical spill concerns
Senators, EPA chief travel to Ohio over train chemical spill concerns

Senators, EPA chief travel to Ohio over train chemical spill concerns

Sens. J.D. Vance and Sherrod Brown have called for congressional investigations about rail oversight following the train derailment.

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Scripps News attended a press conference and asked Michael Regan, the EPA Administrator, how to build trust in a community that doesn’t seem to trust anybody. He told us "you build trust by transparency. We have to engage with the community. We have to be on the ground. We have to be present. That’s what we’re pledging to do."

Trust is what is lacking for many in East Palestine, especially when it comes to Norfolk Southern, which caught heat for not showing up for a town meeting this week — saying they feared for the safety of their employees.  

"They definitely should be giving us money, because they’re to blame," said Emily Mahon, an East Palestine resident.    

Mahon and her family are also frustrated by what they find to be vague responses about environmental safety.  

"I think there’s something more going on and they’re not being honest about it," Mahon said. 

In some cases, even the government is raising suspicions about Norfolk Southern. The governor of Pennsylvania this week wrote the company gave inaccurate information about a controlled release of chemicals and distanced themselves from first responders after the crash. 

About two weeks after the crash, locals still complain about headaches and irritated eyes, and find their cars and lawns covered in soot. 

"They’re getting conflicting stories. Especially social media," said Scott McAleer, an East Palestine resident. 

McAleer lives doors away from the derailment. He shared video showing the flames and smoke from February 3. 

Norfolk Southern says it’s creating a million dollar fund to help the ongoing clean up. CEO Alan Shaw vowed in a letter "we will not let you down."

But for many in the community the rail line can’t pay enough to buy goodwill.