COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX) — Residents expressed their fears and anger at a town hall after a train carrying hazardous material wrecked in their community.
Masses of people packed into a school gym wanting answers from officials.
Twenty cars in total were carrying hazardous materials, 10 of which derailed. The wreck caused a massive fire and authorities released and burned toxic vinyl chloride due to the potential for a bigger disaster. The burn sent a huge plume of black smoke into the air.
Residents were ordered to leave the area until air tests came back safe. Since then, fears have grown as many wonder what effects releasing and burning those chemicals had.
"Are we really safe? Is our water safe?... You destroyed our town. Why? This could have been prevented," Melissa Boyer told us.
The Ohio EPA said Wednesday that the tests from the wells that feed into East Palestine's municipal water came back negative for contaminants related to the wreck.
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. There hadn’t been any confirmed deaths of other wildlife, including livestock, state officials said.
Residents are still concerned.
"The whole town is here and everyone is really upset and afraid of what is going to happen," Mary Stanley said.
The town's mayor is feeling the pressure.
"I need help. I am not ready for this. I wasn’t built for this," Mayor Trent Conaway said at the town hall. "I have this village on my back and I will do whatever it takes. Whatever it takes to make this right."
Initially, questions were being addressed individually at different tables, but the mayor changed the format, allowing residents to ask questions into a microphone.
One side was conspicuously missing.
The rail operator Norfolk Southern said they would not be attending the town hall, citing a “growing physical threat to our employees and members of the community around this event."
"Cowards. Absolute cowards. They don’t want to answer our questions," Ted Murphy told us. "They don’t want to have to confront it. How can you look all these people in the face and tell them there is nothing wrong? How can you do that?"
Mayor Conway said the company had been working with the community but made clear that they should because "they are the ones who screwed this up."
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost advised Norfolk Southern on Wednesday that his office is considering legal action against the rail operator.
The U.S. EPA issued a general notice of potential liability to Norfolk Southern last week.
Despite the fears, residents said their village is standing strong.
"We are not going to give up," Stanley said. "The people here in this community are not going to give up until we get what we want."