Residents impacted by the train derailment and chemical fallout in East Palestine, Ohio, gathered in anticipation of a visit from former President Donald Trump on Wednesday afternoon.
Local and state authorities previously evacuated all residents within one mile of the February 3 derailment and started a controlled burn of industrial chemicals loaded on the vehicle to decrease the risk of an explosion, which could have sent shrapnel throughout the small town. Vinyl chloride, a carcinogenic substance used to manufacture PVC, was emitted from five train cars in the form of massive plumes of dark smoke, prompting concerns about air and water quality for the millions of people who live in the Ohio River Basin.
Trump, who announced his third bid for the White House at the end of last year, revealed that he would visit East Palestine on Wednesday and draw attention to the relative silence on the disaster from President Joe Biden, who appears most likely to lead the Democratic ticket next year. The Post Millennial reporter Savanah Hernandez filmed dozens of people gathered along roadsides in the rust belt town as they awaited the visit; some waved large Trump flags as others chanted slogans such as “No more Joe.”
The crowd appeared displeased as one individual held a sign bearing critical slogans about Trump. Some 72% of Columbiana County residents cast their ballots for Trump in the 2020 election cycle, according to data from the Columbiana County Board of Elections.
Biden has not yet visited East Palestine but took a clandestine trip to Ukraine on Monday to express solidarity with the nation’s war effort against Russia. FEMA granted a request to aid residents of East Palestine with the disaster recovery only after Trump revealed his plans to visit the town, a note that the former commander-in-chief sounded on social media.
Trent Conaway, the mayor of East Palestine, likewise characterized Biden’s mission to Ukraine as a “slap in the face” in an interview with Fox News. “He doesn’t care about us,” he added.
Trump won his first race for the White House in 2016 by discussing issues especially critical to the rust belt, such as eliminating illegal immigration, encouraging the return of manufacturing jobs, and “draining the swamp” of entrenched bureaucratic power in Washington. The celebrity businessman clinched Ohio by eight-point margins in both 2016 and 2020 after former President Barack Obama decisively won the swing state for the Democrats in each of his elections.
The highest-ranking member of the Biden administration to visit East Palestine has so far been EPA Administrator Michael Regan, who canceled a climate change mission to Africa he was scheduled to lead alongside celebrity couple Idris and Sabrina Elba as his agency addresses the fallout. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has yet to visit the small town and did not publicly address the crisis for more than a week after it began; the official said on Monday that he would visit East Palestine “when the time is right.”
The EPA ordered Norfolk Southern, the company at the center of the train derailment, to manage the cleanup of the toxic chemical spill, which has caused a lingering smell in the air and contamination in local bodies of water despite state and federal officials’ insistence that air and water quality is not a cause for concern. The agency also threatened to “immediately step in, conduct the necessary work, and then seek to compel Norfolk Southern to pay triple the cost” if the company fails to adequately complete enumerated cleanup actions.