Prior to the lifting of an evacuation order for residents of East Palestine, Ohio, SMART officers and members pitched in to assist the displaced residents with supplies and other support.
Due to the massive Norfolk Southern derailment there on Friday, February 3, and the hazardous materials release, lives in the community were turned upside down with many having to relocate temporarily in community shelters.
SMART-TD Ohio State Legislative Director (SLD) Clyde Whitaker, along with representatives of SMART International went to one of the shelters to bring supplies and lend support. SLD Whitaker and the other members of SMART listened to the concerns of the residents at the Family Assistance Center that was set up at Abundant Life Fellowship Church in New Waterford, OH.
The scene at the shelter was not a memory that Whitaker will forget anytime soon. Concerns were voiced that ranged from the immediate needs of food, shelter and clothing to the long-term environmental condition of the soil, air, and water in the town. Much of the discussion focused on how the future would look in this proud community, and what kind of remediation effort they could expect to see from the carrier.
“This really hit home to a lot of us. It’s the biggest catastrophe that I’ve seen in my 23 years of railroading here in Ohio,” Whitaker said.
Some of the most heated discussions revolved around air quality concerns. The large-scale chemical fire that was the result of Friday’s derailment and Tuesday’s “controlled release” of chemicals by NS created more than just the pictures that have been circulated through both local and national news media. It also created serious health concerns. Though the residents have been assured throughout this process that testing continues to show that the air is safe to breathe, many of the people at the shelter Wednesday remained skeptical.
One of the East Palestinians SMART talked with was a mother who asked to be identified only as Britt. She is deeply concerned because of her daughter’s asthma. Britt gave details about her daughter’s condition having been well controlled, and that she had not had an episode in some time until the derailment. When Britt and her family attempted to evacuate, her daughter had an immediate flare up of her condition with the very limited exposure of walking from the family’s front door to their car in the driveway.
Stories like Britt’s as well as multiple accounts of fish and animals being affected by the current conditions have the community worried about the immune compromised as well as the long-term effects for their community as a whole.
NS, the NTSB and a few local churches also helped by establishing shelters for the displaced families.
SMART-TD would like to thank SLD Whitaker and his team for their commitment to community outreach, and we will continue to keep Britt’s family and all of East Palestine in mind as we advocate for safety measures throughout the rail industry.
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