East Palestine businesses struggling after train derailment

EAST PALESTINE, OH – MARCH 09: EPA staff talk to residents about the equipment that they use to monitor air, water, and soil during an open house event at a high school on March 9, 2023 in East Palestine, Ohio. Cleanup efforts continue after a Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals derailed causing an environmental disaster. Thousands of residents were ordered to evacuate after the area was placed under a state of emergency and temporary evacuation orders. (Photo by Michael Swensen/Getty Images)

(NewsNation) — Nate Velez, owner of Velez Engines in East Palestine, hasn’t had one customer since Feb. 3.

That’s the day 50 train cars, 10 of them carrying hazardous materials, derailed in the small village on the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania. No one was injured in the derailment, but three days after it happened, authorities burned the vinyl chloride found inside five tanker cars. Since then, residents have reported animals dying, health concerns, and even an odor in the village.

Take a walk down Market Street in East Palestine, and you’ll see in most windows signs of solidarity — and signs apologizing for new store hours.

Some business owners like Velez are officially in the red.

“If anyone sees East Palestine, they’re like ‘Oh, crap,'” and then as soon as I say where my shop is, (they’re) like ‘Oh, crap,'” Velez said. That’s because his shop is right behind the site where the trains derailed. Sulfur Run, a creek people have concerns about, is right by Velez Engines.

“Everyone knows most of the contaminants are in that water, and it’s connected to that hole,” he said.

To get by, Velez has had to sell some of his items, but even that has become difficult. Someone messaged him, asking if his dirt bike has any vinyl chloride.

Another guy, “trolling” Velez, asked how many chemicals were on the paint of a truck he was selling. A GoFundMe page has been set up for Velez to help him during this tough financial time.

About 10 miles away from the crash site is Michelle Graef, who runs a sprawling Airbnb business. She says the train wreck has stopped bookings.

Normally, around this time, it’s full, as people work their way into summer.

Now, though, “I have nothing,” Graef said.

“Everybody that was booked — they canceled,” she said.

To give her guests a homemade meal, Graef normally cooks breakfast for them using blueberries grown in her backyard. That won’t happen this year, though.

“I can’t risk putting these in pancakes and waffles when I don’t really know what they’ve soaked up from this chemical thing,” she said. “The ground was like a sponge. It soaked it up.”

Ohio Train Derailment

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