East Palestine Mayor Pleads for Patience

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio – Friday’s train derailment has meant the evacuation of many longtime residents of East Palestine and has led to a plea for patience from Mayor Trent Conaway.

Following up a press conference earlier in the day where questions were left unanswered, Conaway asked for patience from everyone, including those from out of town and residents.

“We’re a small little Ohio town. We’re doing the best we can. Frustration levels are high for everybody. Everyone is tired,” said Conaway, noting he knows for some people it will never be good enough.

“As a community, we’ll rally around this,” Conaway said. “We’re going to demand that there’s still constant monitoring. It was an accident, but Norfolk-Southern is going to be responsible for it. They are going to take care of it, and we’re going to make sure that’s going to happen.”

Conaway said the community has seen an outpouring of support, and he is proud of the community. He talked about what a strong community East Palestine is, pulling together to help each other, and he believes this has all made everyone stronger.

“I hate that we had to put residents out of their homes. Nobody likes that,” Conaway said. “Please be patient. We’re working diligently. Hopefully by tomorrow we have some answers. I can’t promise anything. I just beg of you to just give us some time. We’re working this out as soon as possible.”

There are signs things are moving in the right direction.

County EMA Director Peggy Clark said sampling was being done by field techs, and it was hoped they would be able to analyze them overnight.

“Hopefully we’ll have some good news then,” Clark said.

Cleanup is already underway, and Scott Deutsch of Norfolk Southern said only one train car of those that laid there in a tangled heap since Friday night’s derailment remained on the tracks as of late Tuesday evening. The rest had been stacked up and would remain there into the middle of next week for the National Transportation Safety Board investigation. The railroad is already starting to put in new tracks and will then start transferring any of the loads from the train cars that are still loaded there.

Norfolk’s remediation activities will continue, and the reception center for residents who have been evacuated remains open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. Business owners can also go there if they have questions, but the claims department team will go around to each business to talk about their concerns after cleanup is concluded, Deutsch said.

Major Jeffrey Jones, deputy commander of the 52nd Civil Service Team of the Ohio National Guard,  said they were inside buildings in downtown East Palestine taking air quality samples, wearing orange contamination suits. Later in the day they were able to downgrade their protection and wore less protective white suits. Jones said they always start with the highest levels of protective gear and move down as the situation allows, and he seemed confident they will be able to continue to downgrade their protection levels Wednesday.

Clark said public safety is of the utmost importance and sampling continues. U.S. EPA on-scene coordinator James Justice said so far air samples have shown low levels of chemicals. It will be made optional for residents who want their homes screened to detect any needs for decontamination.

East Palestine is not the only area screening for particulates with the Mahoning Emergency Management Agency issuing a recommendation for those concerned about a chemical smell or haze to stay indoors. Air monitoring also reportedly occurred in Boardman Township and Youngstown.

Youngstown fire Chief Barry Finley said Tuesday that Mahoning County HazMat continued monitoring the air in the city, and at that time no elevated levels had been found.

“I am happy to report that the air quality is safe and poses no health hazards,” Finley said in a news release.

During the evening press conference in East Palestine, Maj. Derek Dunnigan of the 52nd Civil Support said particulates can cause irritations, and those who are having symptoms they are concerned about should seek medical attention.

The community is “truly blessed,” state Rep. Monica Robb Blasdel, R-Columbiana County, said Tuesday evening.

“This is a situation that could have gone from bad to worse, much worse,” Blasdel said in a news release. “However, with the support from local officials, trained professionals, first responders, the National Guard and our governor, we came together to ensure the safety and mitigation of destruction for the community of East Palestine.

Pictured at top: The intersection at Main and Market Street, usually one of East Palestine’s busier intersections downtown, is now a dead end marking the start of the evacuation zone.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.