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East Palestine residents wait in limbo while cleanup continues

Three months after a train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, residents still are unsure whether they'll be able to return to their homes.
East Palestine residents wait in limbo while cleanup continues
Posted at 4:01 PM, Apr 27, 2023

It's been nearly three months since a Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio.

The huge black plume of smoke from the controlled burn of toxic chemicals is gone, but fears about the future and whether it's safe to live there remain.

"I love this house, but you can't get attached to it," said Kristina Ferguson, a resident of East Palestine.

Three generations of Ferguson's family have lived in a 1930s duplex in East Palestine. Now she's staying with her parents in a condominium the railroad rented 10 miles away.

To return to her home, Ferguson wants independent testing and a thorough cleaning of their home. But she's not sure her family will ever feel safe in the home again.

"I just keep thinking, 'Where am I gonna be? Is anybody even gonna still be trying to help us? What's the next step?' Do they just knock on the door and say, 'Hey, you have to be out tomorrow?''

SEE MORE: Norfolk Southern: East Palestine toxic derailment to cost $387 million

About half of East Palestine's 5,000 residents evacuated when officials decided to burn vinyl chloride from five tanker cars to prevent an explosion. Most people have returned, but many complain of illnesses and worry about contamination. 

Others, like Jeff Drummond, aren't allowed back because of the continuing cleanup near their homes. The retired truck driver and Gulf War veteran is living alone in a tiny room in a roadside motel now. He said he misses mowing his lawn and spending time in his yard.

"I can't do my own cooking," Drummond said. "I have to go out and do my own laundry. I have a washer and dryer at home that I can't use. You know, I have nothing here, basically just a room."

Norfolk Southern is excavating thousands of tons of contaminated soil. The Environmental Protection Agency expects that to take another two to three months. Toxic chemicals must be removed from two creeks, which could take longer.

In the meantime, displaced residents are waiting to see what the future holds.

"We'll go back if we can, absolutely, and if we can't, I can accept that too because ... I pray all the time, and I tell God, you know, 'Whatever you have for me, I can do for you,'" said Norma Carr, a resident of East Palestine.


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