NewsEast Palestine Train Derailment


'They just did not deserve this' — East Palestine residents express frustration, fear, skepticism

Transportation Secretary pushing for legislation to hold rail companies accountable
Posted at 12:25 PM, Feb 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-24 12:31:13-05

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — No matter what side of the tracks you're on in East Palestine, the frustration, fear and skepticism are the same.

“Why does it smell bad? Why does my throat hurt?” asked East Palestine resident Tamara Freeze. “The water smells funny. Fish are dying.”

While in East Palestine Thursday, News 5 anchor DaLaun Dillard asked residents if they feel safe living there.

“No, no I don't, no,” answered Frank McCracken. “Would you want to live here, dude? You know what I mean? It’s bad.”

It’s been 21 days since a fiery and toxic train crash derailed the lives of the 4,700 people who live in the village, and it has added an extraordinary level of apprehension for people like McCracken, who lives just feet from the crash site.

“You’ve grown up in a small town, probably a little small community, just think if something hazardous or something major were to come by and you were forced to deal with it, and you don't know the long-term effects — if you were to get cancer,” McCracken said to Dillard.

Freeze's home is parallel to McCracken's — the tracks separate them, and a creek, runs behind both of their properties.

She says she has not been using the water from her tap.

“We use bottled water, it’s what I give my animals, it’s what we cook with, drink with,” Freeze said. “We were planning on canning a bunch of food and vegetables, and now I’m afraid to grow anything and eat it.”

On Thursday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made his first visit to the town, nearly three weeks after the derailment, and was pressed on why it took so long to make a public statement about the disaster.

“I felt strongly about this and could’ve expressed that sooner,” he said. “Again, I was taking pains to respect the role that I have and the role that I don’t have, but that should not have stopped me from weighing in about how I felt about what was happening to this community.”

The secretary added that he’s pushing for tougher legislation to hold rail companies accountable, referencing better ways to inform communities about the hazmat materials being transported by rail, increasing the number of employees on trains, and higher penalties for rail companies that don’t comply with regulations.

In the meantime, the people who live here right now just want their sense of security and normalcy back.

“The people here in this town did not deserve this, they just did not deserve this,” McCracken said.