SAVANAH HERNANDEZ REPORTS: Trump’s triumph and Buttigieg’s blunders in East Palestine amid Biden admin’s failed response to toxic train derailment

"Where are you?" A resident named Paula began, "I understand Kiev is in a horrible mess ... but you’re not even paying attention to the people who voted for you, your own constituents."

Savanah Hernandez Texas, US

Residents of East Palestine are still looking for answers and assistance from the federal government three weeks after the toxic train derailment left their town in a state of despair as residents suffer from chemical-induced pneumonia, rashes and hives and the creeks smell of toxic chemicals.

I spent the week in East Palestine, Ohio where I got to see, hear and smell the direct results of the toxic train derailment that left residents of the town in fear for their lives as the federal government ignored them for weeks. During my trip, both Donald Trump and Pete Buttigieg visited the area and their reception could not have been more different. 


Upon arriving in the small town, signs reading “East Palestine Lives Matter” can be seen hanging in the windows of now-closed local businesses. American flags can be seen flying upside down, a universal sign of "dire distress." 

Large water pumps are also dispersed throughout the city and continuously pump water out of local creeks. As of now, the EPA is still standing by their statement that the air and water are safe for residents, however, the creek I visited smelled so strongly of chemicals that it left me with a headache. I watched as two officials waded through the water taking samples of the surrounding dirt, a rainbow sheen could be seen as they disturbed the water. 

Residents detailed concerns about their short and long-term health, sharing that dead animals, hives, rashes, trouble breathing and pneumonia were common sights and symptoms in the community. They also shared that after a town hall with local officials, they are still in the dark regarding which chemicals were spilled onto their land and burned into the surrounding air. 

"Since the Saturday after the derailment, my step-daughter started developing a rash," one mother explained. She went on to share that her daughter hasn’t even been in East Palestine and that they lived 3.5 miles downstream from the town. "So she hasn’t even been close to it and she’s having this reaction," she continued. 

For almost three weeks, the response from the federal government has been limited and many have criticized Joe Biden for sending almost $200 billion in aid to Ukraine and making the trip overseas before visiting the residents of East Palestine. Not even Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of the Department of Transportation, had announced he would be visiting the town until former President Donald Trump announced he would be arriving. 

Trump announced he would be making a visit to the town, bringing palettes of bottled water. Upon his arrival, the residents burst into cheers, with many verbally thanking the former President for visiting them. Others held signs reading "No More Joe" and chants of Trump’s name rang out as his motorcade made its way down the streets. 

I asked Trump what he would have done for residents if he was in office and he responded that "FEMA would have been here a long time ago." I also asked what his message to President Joe Biden was. "Get over here," he quickly stated. 

He was accompanied by Senator JD Vance and they made their way across the town, giving a press conference at the local firehouse and ending the day at McDonald’s where Trump bought lunch for local firefighters and first responders.  

The following day Secretary Buttigieg then made his long-awaited appearance to the town. However, the energy and groups of residents from the day prior were nowhere to be found. 

The streets were empty and when I walked up to Buttigieg’s second stop of the day, the only people around were FEMA officials and one local news crew. 

Because of the lack of crowds and press it was fairly easy to walk up to Buttigieg, and I immediately asked why it took him almost three weeks to visit the city. He walked away with no response. I then asked if he would apologize to residents for the delayed federal response, which led to his press secretary telling me she could answer my questions, but only off camera. 

I caught up with Buttigieg once more to ask if he really thought he did a good job in response to this disaster to which he responded that "yes," he felt the Department of Transportation had done a good job. 

After Buttigieg’s visit I spoke to residents on the ground, as Americans continue to question why this disaster has not been worth a presidential visit. Given an opportunity to share their thoughts, residents had one simple question for President Joe Biden.

“Where are you?” A resident named Paula began, “I understand Kiev is in a horrible mess, I’m Ukrainian, so I can understand that the Ukraine is in a horrible mess, but you’re not even paying attention to the people who voted for you, your own constituents,” she continued. She finished off by sharing that this event is "shattering" to the residents of East Palestine and also called out Buttigieg for being 20 days late with his visit. 

It was clear after this trip that residents of East Palestine felt abandoned by the federal government. Biden, Ukraine, and lack of federal help were a consistent talking point among the community and there are still continued calls for Buttigieg to resign after the failed response to one of the worst ecological disasters in recent American history.


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