FEMA Reverses Decision. Now It’s Coming to East Palestine

EAST PALESTINE – Just hours after it was said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was not coming to East Palestine – two weeks after the Norfolk Southern derailment that left town reeling, an announcement came Friday night that FEMA will soon be here.

In a joint statement from Gov. Mike DeWine and FEMA Regional Administrator Thomas C. Sivak, it was announced a senior response official and the Regional Incident Management Assistance Teams (IMAT) will supplement the federal efforts to assist East Palestine starting Saturday. According to the FEMA website, the IMAT “are rapidly deployable assets that provide the federal government’s initial coordination and response capability prior to and in the immediate hours following a serious incident.”

FEMA will be joined in East Palestine by professionals from the U.S. Department Health and Human Services whose pending arrival was announced earlier Friday. HHS will be setting up a medical facility, where residents with concerns and questions about health ailments can seek help and information. Experts in reactions to chemical exposure will also be available.

All the federal help is coming at a time when reports are surfacing of death threats and threats of bodily harm. Threats are not just being made against officials of Norfolk Southern, who did not appear at town hall meeting on Wednesday because the company claimed it feared for their safety. Other officials reportedly are also receiving threats and security has been increased in the clean-up area around the derailment.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted was the latest state official to visit East Palestine. He visited Friday with firefighters and local officials, as well as basketball players from the high school.

Soon after Husted’s visit, a video surfaced of Husted, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, Ohio EPA Director Anne Vogel, East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway and Fire Chief Keith Drabick all drinking city water. Conaway confirmed they just wanted residents to know that the municipal water is safe.

“It was to show people it is safe to drink the water,” Conaway said. “If they have concerns, if they want to drink the bottled water, that’s fine. But I drink municipal water. My family drinks municipal water. We bathe in the water… I trust [village water and wastewater superintendent] Scott Wolfe.”

Conaway is still urging those with personal wells to get their water tested and drink bottled water until they receive test results that prove their well water is safe. He also is telling people not to go into the creeks.

EPA officials are continuing to work to remove contaminants from Sulfur Run, which goes through East Palestine, including one area nearest to the derailment site that is dammed with water being rerouted around it.  Sulfur Run flows into Leslie Run, which was featured in another video, posted Thursday, in which U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance swirled the dirt and water with a stick and lifted to the surface what appeared to be a colorful, chemical sheen.

Food Bank Distributes Bottled Water

Those in the area who need bottled water found it being given away Friday at more than one location throughout East Palestine, including one giveaway by the Second Harvest Food Bank, which brought in truckloads of pallets of water along with some cases of soda.

Second Harvest Food Bank brought in truckloads of pallets of bottled water.

Grateful residents who received the water expressed that they have small children or pets at home, that they already have health concerns and are worried about elderly family members. Many just do not want to take a chance.

“Whether it’s coffee or drinking water every day, this is just wonderful,” said one woman as she pulled away after volunteers loaded up her car with water.

Kim Brock, director of operations for Second Harvest Food Bank, is a resident of East Palestine. She said Second Harvest executive director Michael Iberis asked her what residents need. While she knows that some may need many things, she suggested the food bank focus on the need for water. She credited Iberis for contacting some of his sources, which quickly provided semi-trucks of bottled water, about 800 cases in all.

“Obviously the water has been deemed safe. But I know there are a lot of people who are still concerned,” Brock said. Second Harvest will continue to distribute bottled water on various days until public confidence is built back up, she added. Plus there are a lot of people with wells who still have to rely entirely on bottled water.  “

For 13 years, Brock has been with the Second Harvest Food Bank, which provides food for many of the local food banks in the area, including helping in East Palestine. 

Some people were not able to come and get water, but Brock said Second Harvest got a fantastic offer from some volunteers who offered to deliver water to home-bound residents.

State Legislators Urge Congressional Action

Three state legislators also came to East Palestine Friday, announcing they are seeking passage of a resolution urging the U.S. Congress to act in light of the derailment. State Reps. Monica Robb Blasdel R-79; Lauren McNally, D-59; and Al Cutrona, R-58, talked about the bipartisan effort. 

Federal law does not require the railway to notify local government entities that is hauling hazardous materials and they are asking for Congress to act to make certain that happens. Robb Blasdell called it a matter of safety for residents and first responders.

“While we know that changing these regulations would not have prevented this accident from happening, we are doing all we can to ensure the safety of all of our constituents into the future,” said Robb Blasdel.

State Reps. Al Cutrona, Lauren McNally and Monica Robb Blasdel address reporters Friday in East Palestine.

The three legislators said they have received support from many they have spoken at the state house.

“This week, this is the third piece of legislation that we’ve been able to take as it relates to the catastrophic train derailment,” McNally said, “And I am really happy that we’ve been able to do this across the aisle… between both the House and senate side.”

Cutrona called what happened in East Palestine a tragedy. He said that he is proposing economic development legislation, part of which would make sure East Palestine is not forgotten.

Across the State Line

Also Friday, the secretary of Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture released a statement regarding concerns among the owners of animals living near the derailment site.

“Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture veterinarians and Pennsylvania Animal Health Commission partners directly advised livestock and poultry owners and private veterinarians within 10 kilometers of the train derailment on safely housing, feeding, and caring for animals during and after the incident. Private veterinarians received instructions for toxicology testing should any of their clients report respiratory or other symptoms,” said Ag Secretary Russell Redding.

“The department has received no reports of livestock, poultry, or other domestic animal health symptoms that could be attributed to air contaminants since the incident. The department received two reports from private veterinarians treating horses affected by smoke immediately following the controlled burn and will continue to monitor the situation. Poultry, livestock and pet owners should contact their private veterinarians with concerns about unusual respiratory issues, or decreases in feeding, or egg or milk production,” he said.

Pictured at top: Aeration equipment was used in Sulphur Run in East Palestine on Thursday.

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