Trump visits East Palestine following train derailment


Kaitlyn Finchler

East Palestine residents and visitors line up on North Market Street Feb. 22 in anticipation of former president Donald Trump’s visit. Trump and his son, Donald Trump Jr., came to address the Feb. 3 train derailment.

Isabella Schreck, Editor-in-Chief

In a crowd of MAGA hats, American flags and raincoats, over a hundred people cheered and chanted “Trump 2024” while waiting for the former president’s appearance on North Market Street in East Palestine Wednesday.

Donald Trump, who announced his 2024 presidential campaign in November, visited the village to address the Feb. 3 train derailment which released toxic chemicals into the ground, water and air.

“To the people of East Palestine, and to the nearby community in Ohio and Pennsylvania, we have told you loud and clear — you are not forgotten,” Trump said during a press conference at East Palestine’s Fire Department. The event was not open to the public and allowed limited press. “We stand with you, we pray for you.”

A Norfolk Southern train derailed by the Ohio-Pennsylvania border the night of Feb. 3. Thirty-eight cars left the tracks — 11 cars carrying hazardous materials. The company continues to run trains through the area.

The Trump administration repealed an Obama-era law that mandated safer brakes for some train cars carrying flammable substances.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg discussed Trump’s visit and the prior deregulation when he came to East Palestine Thursday.

“Well, one thing he could do is express support for reversing the deregulation that happened on his watch,” Buttigieg said at a press conference. “I heard him say he had nothing to do with it, even though it was in his administration. So if he had nothing to do with it, and they did it in his administration against his will, maybe he could come out and say that he supports us moving in a different direction.”

After praising first responders and members of the East Palestine community at the press conference Wednesday, Trump criticized the response from President Joe Biden’s administration.

Biden has not visited East Palestine since the train derailment, and is currently overseas after a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Monday.

“It’s nice to see that Trump finally came in because at least we’re getting some support,” said Shane Bowser, an electrician who has lived in East Palestine for 10 years. “I’m a union member, and a lot of the people in our union helped Biden get in, and he’s just kind of thrown us to the wayside.”

Bowser described the weeks following the derailment as “frustrating.” He and his family members felt effects from the chemicals released from the train cars.

“I’ve had issues with my eyes burning, my cheeks burning, my lungs burning – and nobody has any answers for you,” he said. “We have nine people in our house, and my third granddaughter, we took her to the hospital because her eyes were burning. They gave her some ointment. They said it could be pink eye or some type of chemical reaction, but there’s nobody saying anything.”

When at the hospital, Bowser said he noticed a lack of details from the staff.

“They wouldn’t write down our address, they wouldn’t write down a lot of things to connect us to East Palestine,” Bowser said.

Brenda Toot, assistant manager of the Marathon gas station off North Market Street, lives 10 miles from East Palestine. She came to work the day after the derailment.

“Every time a train goes by, my knees would buckle because — this is scary,” she said. “My nose was raw on the inside. I had a sore throat. I go home every day with a headache now. I love the people here. It hurts me to see them hurt.”

Toot said she felt “betrayed” by Biden’s lack of presence in the village.

“I really think that we really should have seen Biden here, and not Trump,” she said. “I think it was fantastic that he did show up. [The Biden administration] should have been here taking care of business instead of elsewhere. This is big.”

Giving back and a hope for change

During his visit, Trump organized the distribution of thousands of water bottles, and he later visited places in the village to talk with community members.

Angelica Spence, a captain with the Salem Salvation Army, handed out water and cleaning supplies, many of which were donated, Wednesday.

“We have a service unit here with the Salvation Army,” she said. “So we were here before everything started. We’re still here, and we’ll continue to still be here for the community.”

Susie Bauman, who lives on the western Pennsylvania border, said Trump’s appearance was “all political.”

“The man who was here today is doing it just for political reasons,” said Bauman, whose nephew has a warehouse in East Palestine. “Where I think the governors – they do it too – but they care. Both Democrats and Republicans care. But don’t use this as a stump.”

While residents may be of different political parties, Bauman said it should not interfere with day-to-day lives.

“Trump tore people apart,” she said. “We need to come together – Republicans, Independents [and] Democrats.”

Isabella Schreck is editor-in-chief. Contact her at [email protected].