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Residents remain concerned, stuck in limbo 1 year after East Palestine train derailment

Residents stuck in limbo 1 year after East Palestine train derailment
Residents stuck in limbo 1 year after East Palestine train derailment 04:50

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (KDKA) — Saturday marks one year since a toxic train crashed near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border and forever changed East Palestine, Ohio and Beaver County, Pennsylvania.

As the clean-up continues, concerns remain, with many in limbo. They want people to know their stories are nowhere near over, and that not much has changed. They're still not getting straight answers from officials or Norfolk Southern. 

Their lives were turned upside down, and they have no clear idea what their futures hold.

Twelve months later, Zsuzsa Gyenes is filled with emotion.

"We had to leave our home because it was chemically contaminated, and we knew it was going to kill us," Gyenes said. "Now, we have nowhere to go, and it's not our fault."

A hotel room in Cranberry, Butler County, is now her home, where she and her 10-year-old son are surrounded by belongings they were able to salvage.

"Everything had this Drano smell to it, and it immediately was nauseating. I had to throw out baby pictures. I didn't want to do that," Gyenes said.

They lived in East Palestine, Ohio, just one mile away from where a Norfolk Southern train derailed on Feb. 3, 2023, bursting into flames and releasing toxic chemicals into the air. Within hours, her eyes and throat were burning, she was nauseous and her son, who has asthma, woke up coughing.

"I was like, 'OK, this smell is, obviously, there's something,'" Gyenes said. "'I don't know what this is. We need to get out of here.'"

For months, they hopped from hotel to hotel after escaping the vent and burn of vinyl chloride. Her son eventually tested positive for that chemical after getting a rash on his arms and face. To this day, Gyenes said those results are downplayed.

"I was like there's no way you're telling me there's nothing here. I wasn't sick before. The smell didn't exist before," Gyenes said.

Linda and Russell Murphy also tested positive, only to hear doctors list off several possible reasons other than the hazards on the train.

"We smoke? We don't. We drink? Very minimal," Linda described what doctors told them. "You must eat a lot of onions? Yeah, just like apples."

The Murphys remain in their home, nearly 3 miles away from the site of the wreckage, but less than a mile from Leslie Run, where they said an oily film is sometimes still visible on the surface. 

They use bottled water for drinking and cooking, but they use well water to bathe and do laundry. Independent researchers found high levels of dioxins in their soil, and they said their health challenges continue, from blurred vision to numbness and mobility issues.

All the while, Norfolk Southern and the United States Environmental Protection Agency continue to say the air is safe to breathe and the water is safe to drink.

"We go from being told one thing to another. Well if it was never there, if it was never a hazard, if it was never a risk, why all this remediation?" Linda Murphy said.

"You lose sleep at night. And you wonder, by staying here and the home you built, the security that you felt, is it smart to stay?" Russell Murphy said.

They're not ready to make these decisions, but at this point, they find it hard to trust anyone.

"They have conditioned us well enough to know we will not get our questions answered," Linda Murphy said. 

"And doesn't that give you the answer?" Russell Murphy said.

They can count several promises they said haven't been fulfilled and necessities they haven't received: proper indoor cleaning, lifelong health care and medical monitoring, reimbursement for losses, and funds for permanent housing.

"Our lives have been completely on hold, in this limbo at Norfolk's mercy," Gyenes said.

Until the other day, Gyenes was under the impression that Norfolk Southern would stop paying for her hotel on Feb. 9. KDKA-TV reached out to the freight company for comment. In a statement, a spokesperson said differently:

"The NS Family Assistance Center continues to provide Ms. Gyenes with financial assistance arising from her relocation situation."

It's a response that puzzles Gyenes all the more.

"I want straight answers and I want the truth, and I want a solution and I want it Feb. 3 of last year," Gyenes said.

Families hope as attention returns to the derailment, they'll finally see some action. But based on this past year, it's hard for them to remain optimistic.

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