Are you there Norfolk Southern? It’s us, the ones affected by your disaster

Little Beaver Creek
This photo of Little Beaver Creek, which runs through Beaver Creek State Park, was taken weeks before the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. Since the chemical burn off/spill that followed the derailment, many waterways south of East Palestine have been contaminated. Sara Welch photo.

I promise to return to my usually scheduled dorkiness and general personal mayhem next week. Having a natural disaster of international proportions happen in our rural county seems to call for more than a passing conversation. 

The catastrophic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, Feb. 3, is international news. I am not in the evacuation zone. I say this to make clear that this is not an “all about me” moment. Nonetheless, watching this unfold in my charming, rural county has been frustrating, heartbreaking and maddening. 


It seems like the news gets worse daily instead of better. There was a chemical plume of fallout that traveled the Ohio River. It has now impacted at least three states. People were sent home just 48 hours after a controlled chemical release. There was no special remediation in their homes. They were not professionally cleaned. 

It became clear early and all too often that this disaster needed a much higher level of handling. 

I’m not a conspiracy theorist. Frankly, I don’t have the attention span for it. That said, the first train rolled down the newly rebuilt tracks less than an hour after residents were given the all-clear to return to their soot-covered homes. Was this because the railroad had an agenda to return to business as usual? Never mind a decimated town and homes.


It only recently came to my attention that another serious derailment that happened within a mile of GirlWonder’s home just three months ago. Recently, another one of their trains fell off a track in a neighboring state. Has anyone checked on the railroad? Are they OK? We are assured that derailments are “common.” Perhaps, they shouldn’t be? 

A week after giving people the all-clear to return home, the railroad posted an advertisement that said, “As you return home, assistance and testing are available.” 

Let that sink in. “As you return home?” People were assured that their homes were safe a week prior? 

“How in this year of our Lord with technology at our fingertips can we make this experience as difficult as possible? I know, let’s move our information center not in the same high school where we have the evacuation center. Too easy. Let’s put that in the next town over. We will make them come there for everything. Paper forms only of course. There is nothing exhausted, displaced people need more than to stand in a really long line.” 

If it wasn’t a tragedy, it would read like a comedy. How is this an acceptable way to treat people you have already victimized? 


I’m furious because there is no way the slow, lackadaisical and weak “response” on the part of those who caused this catastrophe would have been acceptable in a different type of place. Had this train derailed in a high-income area of million-dollar homes, we would see a completely different attitude and response from the culprits. 

To add yet another insult to endless injury, when state, county, and city officials and residents attended a packed informational meeting to discuss the ongoing cleanup efforts, the railroad officials canceled at the last minute. 

The reason? They said they chose not to attend due to the “growing physical threat” to their employees. It is unclear which of the townspeople were a threat? Was it the elderly woman, disabled and afraid? The young expectant mother, balancing a toddler on her hip, desperately seeking reassurance that the home they had scrimped and saved to buy was, in fact, safe for her growing family? 

The railroad executives “didn’t feel safe?” Well, sirs, there is a lot of that going around these parts. Why don’t you get in line? 


Home is a powerful draw and fear is a powerful motivator. We all want things to be “normal” but this is anything but. The only positive of this disaster is that we know it happened. 

We can begin cleanup immediately — not after years of it being hidden and festering. Then again, the reaction of the multi-million dollar company that caused this mess is, quite frankly, infuriating. Coming to town to meet the people they harmed feels like the least they can do. If their current attitude is any indication, they definitely will do the very least. 

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