Lindsay Johnston, a mother of two, and one of the residents of Ohio reeling from the Norfolk Southern train crash in East Palestine, expressed anger at President Biden for his response to the disaster.
“Local officials and [Ohio] Gov. [Mike] DeWine have been telling us it’s safe to go home,” Johnston told the New York Post on Wednesday as hundreds of residents flocked to see former President Donald Trump in a county that he won in the 2020 presidential election with 71% of the vote.
“But how do they know it’s safe? They don’t … They think we’re all dumb hicks who voted for Trump and they can pull anything over on us,” said Johnston, whose family has been staying with relatives and in hotels since the crash. “They do know we can’t vote against them if we’re dead … It’s not surprising [President] Biden chose going to Ukraine over us. Why would he care about us? He knows we’re not going to vote for him.”
Johnston’s comments came the day before Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made the trip to the town on Thursday, 20 days after the disaster occurred. Buttigieg only visited following significant backlash aimed at him and the Biden administration at large for seemingly ignoring the situation.
Johnston, a wife and mother to two girls, fled the house she and her husband purchased together just three years ago, due to the fact that it was located in the infamous “one-mile zone” surrounding the crash site where 1.1 million pounds of toxic vinyl chloride were spilled and later burned. Thick, black plumes of smoke were sent into the air, contaminating soil and water sources. The two have only gone back a few times to pick up things since.
DeWine and the EPA told residents that it was safe to return to their homes just five days after the derailment because the water had been tested and is no longer showing signs of contamination. However, Johnston and others now know that the data they were using came from tests, paid for by the railway company.
“We don’t even know the correct way to clean our home to get rid of the chemicals on the furniture and in the rugs and floor because no one will tell us,” Johnston said. “We have a 27-year mortgage on a home we might never be able to live in again — or sell. And it’s like no one cares.”
Every time we’ve been back, we get rashes and sore throats,” she added. “My husband had trouble breathing for three days the last time. Imagine if we brought the baby home. A 1-year-old can’t tell you if she has a sore throat or can’t breathe. We could never risk our kids’ lives like that.”
The mothers of East Palestine feel especially vulnerable. Erin Neiheisel, 29, is 35 weeks pregnant with her third child, working as a waitress at the Sprinklz restaurant in downtown East Palestine.
Neiheisel lives on a small farm a little over a mile from the epicenter of the derailment. She hopes that she and her family are far enough away to be safe.
“I worry about the baby but I’m also a gardener and a farmer and I worry about the crops and my animals,” she said. “I want to think everything will be OK. I know Ukraine is having a very tough time so I can understand why President Biden is there. I don’t think he’ll come here to see us but if he did, that’d be nice. I’m just hoping that everybody will just come out and be honest and that we get some help.”
“I love East Palestine and I love my home, but now I’m in a situation where I don’t even want to come back to it,” Lindsay Johnston said.
“It’s such a beautiful little town where everybody works together and helps one another, but now none of us is safe,” she added. “It’s interesting that the left is usually so pro-environment, like everything should be green and all that. Kind of strange that they want us all to go green and drive electric cars but they don’t care that there are chemicals burning in our small town.”
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