The rattling of windows was a common occurrence in Eric Cozza’s East Palestine home. Anytime the Norfolk Southern trains came rumbling down the tracks less than half a mile from his home, the glass wobbled.

On the night of the Ohio train derailment, he felt far more than a rattle.

“I felt the foundations shaking,” he said, standing on his front porch nearly two weeks after a train carrying vinyl chloride and other hazardous chemicals derailed within walking distance of his home.

He was immediately forced to evacuate, but finding lodging for himself, his two large dogs, and the rest of his family — a total of seven — was no easy task. After being turned away from a hotel charging $200 a night, he managed to find cheaper accommodations in nearby Lisbon thanks to a friend who worked on the staff.

Once it was clear the train cars carrying highly flammable vinyl chloride weren’t going to explode and consume his home in a toxic fireball, he and his family returned.

Since then he — and the rest of the village — have been left with few satisfying answers.

Mr Cozza and many of his neighbours are sceptical about Norfolk Southern’s intentions, sceptical about what they’re being told by the EPA, and sceptical of the state’s response.

He expressed frustration that Joe Biden hadn’t sent more help — recognising that the state’s Governor Mike DeWine hadn’t asked for additional resources from the federal government — and pointed to his Donald Trump lawn sign, which read “Trump Country,” noting that he supported the former president but was disappointed with his silence.

“He’s got the biggest platform out there and he hasn’t said a word,” Mr Cozza noted.

Whether the village’s scepticism is warranted or not remains to be seen.

Members of the community gather to discuss their safety and other environmental concerns at a town hall meeting following a train derailment that spilled toxic chemicals, in East Palestine

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Members of the community gather to discuss their safety and other environmental concerns at a town hall meeting following a train derailment that spilled toxic chemicals, in East Palestine


The driving force behind Mr Cozza and his neighbours’ scepticism is the disparity between what they’re being told and what they’re hearing from each other — and in many cases experiencing themselves.

They are being told the water is safe to drink, yet they see strange films on their outdoor water features and the creeks that run near by. They’re told their coughs and headaches after being exposed to the volatile organic compounds that formed when Norfolk Southern vented the vinyl chloride and burned it, sending a massive pillar of smoke into the air above the city, are common side effects. Yet some are describing hospitalisations and strange rashes.

Mr Cozza, who suffers from asthma, says he’s had a more difficult time breathing since the accident.

On top of the physical ailments and the uncertainty of what, if anything, he and his loved ones are breathing in and absorbing through their skin when they shower and wash their clothes in the village’s water, the ever-present weight of the catastrophe is constantly at the forefront of his mind.

Between running side gigs from home — he worked for 30 years as a bricklayer before he was put on disability pay after suffering an injury — he has also floated the idea of organising a protest and is continuing to help support his fiance, who suffers from a chronic illness.

“It’s exhausting. I’m tired,” he said.

Flames rage from huge fire after train derailment in Ohio

A town hall meeting the night before drew national and international media to the village of 5,000 residents. The main drag in downtown East Palestine was dotted with tents and cameras on Thursday. Live streamers wandered around with their cameras in the air and at least one social media influencer was reportedly going door to door filming himself handing out $1,000 dollars to affected residents.

The attention is a double-edged sword. A week ago commenters on social media complained that the media was ignoring the plight of the residents at the expense of a Chinese spy balloon. The press addressed those claims and swarmed the town, and while residents all feel it important that their stories be told, it adds an extra chore to their list, and a requirement to revisit their terror the night their lives were upended by a runaway train.

Nicole Velez, whose husband owns a small engine repair shop on Taggart Road near the spot of the derailment, was at her limit on Thursday.

On Wednesday, she met with lawyers, trying to decide out the next course of action for her and her family, and what they could do if her husband lost his business. At the same time her husband, Nathan, was appearing on Fox News segments explaining their situation.

Her family was staying at an Airbnb outside town, but their booking expired, which forced them to again pack up what they could carry and search for a new, temporary home.

“We need to focus on our family right now and find another place to stay close to the hospital,” she said, noting that she was a nurse. She still needed to work her weekend shifts. Life may have felt like it stopped on the night on 3 February, but her bills and financial obligations certainly had not.

Some residents are concerned their physical reactions don’t tally with reassuring messages from officials

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Some residents are concerned their physical reactions don’t tally with reassuring messages from officials

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“We just have so many things we need to do just to get by so I can still get to work and keep our kids safely away from the area,” she said.

The frenzy in East Palestine will calm soon. Most of the non-local reporters will return to their homes to chase the next story. The influencers will pack up their cameras and the ABC News producers — and Independent reporters — will no longer be clacking away on Macbooks at the downtown McDonald’s. But the most important question — “what will happen to us?” — is one that will linger on with the village’s residents for months, if not years.

Mr Cozza realises this, but says he’s confident that he and his neighbours won’t let what happened in East Palestine go unchalleneged.

“I think Norfolk Southern thinks we’re a bunch of hillbillies who weren’t going to push back on this,” he said. “And maybe we are hillbilles, but we’re educated hillbilles. We’re not stupid, we’re not going to stop asking questions, and we’re not going to let them get away with it.”

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