‘The people want answers!’ Furious mayor tears into Ohio rail crash company Norfolk Southern as it runs scared of East Palestine town hall meeting because officials ‘were afraid for their safety’ – as state now threatens to sue
Rail company Norfolk Southern ran scared of a town hall meeting in East Palestine tonight because officials ‘were afraid for their safety’ following the chemical train derailment disaster. Representatives were due to attend to help explain what happened and how they could repair the devastation – and soothe fears of potential long term health problems including cancer. But the town’s mayor Trent Conaway (pictured) revealed just before the packed meeting at the local high school: ‘The people want answers. I want answers. Norfolk Southern didn’t show up.’
Asked why, he said: ‘Because they are scared for their safety.’ In a statement, Norfolk Southern said: ‘Unfortunately, after consulting with community leaders, we have become increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees and members of the community around this event stemming from the increasing likelihood of the participation of outside parties.’ Pictured: Alan Shaw, the CEO of Norfolk Southern railway.
The meeting came amid rising concerns about the huge plumes of smoke that ballooned over East Palestine after the crash, along with persisting odors, questions over potential threats to pets and wild animals, any potential impact on drinking water and plans for the cleanup. Even as school resumed and trains were rolling again, people were worried.
On Wednesday Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost advised Norfolk Southern that his office is considering legal action against the rail operator. ‘The pollution, which continues to contaminate the area around East Palestine, created a nuisance, damage to natural resources and caused environmental harm,’ Yost said in a letter sent to the company.
The state’s Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday that the latest tests show water from five wells supplying the village’s drinking water are free from contaminants. But the EPA also is recommending testing for private water wells because they are closer to the surface. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimates the spill affected more than seven miles of streams and killed some 3,500 fish, mostly small ones such as minnows and darters.
Conaway (pictured) launched into a passionate speech to reporters as hundreds thronged into the hall demanding answers and explanations, at one point picking up a megaphone to project his message to the crowd residents and press. He was clearly unhappy by the way the meeting was shaping up, with angry locals at first appearing to be cheated of their right to make their voices heard.
He said: ‘This isn’t the way it’s supposed to go. We will have everybody in the stands and ask questions. I just hope this stays civil. If not we will end it. I have been working behind the scenes to get our elected officials to help us out.’ And he expressed his frustration at dealing with major authorities. ‘I am a mayor of a town of 47 hundred people. If you think I can fight against a railroad or fight against the EPA you’re crazy,’ he told reporters.
And he admitted: ‘I don’t feel safe in my town. I tell everybody they’re safe, think our citizens are safe, I think our drinking water is safe. Everybody is concerned. I’m concerned. It’s not Norfolk Southern here, it’s the EPA trying to get our citizens back into their homes safe. That’s what we need right now. We need our citizens to feel safe in their own homes. I’m very frustrated.’
Referring to one report in one news outlet saying he ‘nuked’ the town, he said: ‘We didn’t nuke our town. There were two options. We either detonate those tanks or they detonate themselves. This option, yes powerful chemicals went in the air. I’m truly sorry but that is the only option we had. If we didn’t do that then they would blow up and there would be shrapnel all across this town. I live two blocks from here. I live two blocks from the train tracks.’
Of Norfolk Southern he said: ‘I speak with them every day. They have been working with us. They should. They are the ones who screwed this up. By God we are going to get some answers for people.’ Of the EPA he said: ‘I need help. I’m not ready for this. I wasn’t built for this. I have the village on my back and I will do whatever it takes, however it takes to make this right.’ He vowed: ‘I’m not leaving. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going to sell my house, I’m not going to move my kids out of the school. I’m here to stay. They are going to make it right. I’m done playing games. They screwed up our town, they’re going to fix it.’
He also attacked some people on social media for terrifying locals. ‘We’re getting good information out but we’re getting a lot of bad information too. It’s scaring the hell out of our residents. Quite frankly I’m sick and tired of it. We don’t need homegrown chemists,’ he said. Pictured: A giant plume of smoke from the aftermath of the incident could be seen from miles away.
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