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Some Pennsylvania residents near the toxic train derailment feel left out of recovery

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals over two weeks ago has brought national attention to the residents of East Palestine, Ohio. But some of the people most impacted by the derailment live in Pennsylvania, some just yards from the state line. Pennsylvania's governor visited with some of his state's affected residents yesterday. Some say they still feel like they were left out of recovery efforts as WESA's Oliver Morrison reports.

OLIVER MORRISON, BYLINE: Lee Hostetter lives just over a mile away from where Norfolk Southern's train derailed. He could see fire over the trees in his front yard. Hostetter lives a half mile away from the Ohio border in rural Pennsylvania, and he doesn't feel like his family has help because he lives in a different state.

LEE HOSTETTER: We're, like, in a different world out here. They're leaving us out. And this is serious. I mean, you know, we want to know how bad it really is.

MORRISON: When the derailment occurred two weeks ago, Hostetter wasn't going to leave his home, but once he and his family saw what the toxic plume looked like, they hit the road.

HOSTETTER: And we sat up on the hill there to see which way the smoke was going. Well, the smoke went up to the ceiling of the clouds were way down low, and instead of it blowing, you know, blowing away, it started forming a mushroom like a nuclear bomb went off.

MORRISON: Adam Cornwell lives down the road, less than a quarter mile from the Ohio border and about a mile from the accident.

ADAM CORNWELL: Well, I felt my house shake, and I thought the neighbor's house was on fire until I went up over the hill. And it looked like the whole town was on fire.

MORRISON: Cornwell says he and his fiancee heeded evacuation orders. But when he returned a few days later, his fiancee had to wipe a slimy, yellow residue off the walls and counters. He's seen reports of animals dying, and he's worried about what that means for the deer he hunts.

CORNWELL: I don't want to eat the deer if they're breathing in that contaminants, you know. So I pretty much can't hunt here no more.

MORRISON: Norfolk Southern has offered $1,000 in compensation to residents in Ohio affected by the accident. And the company says that Pennsylvania residents within the evacuation area are eligible for the same $1,000 as well.

Pennsylvania leaders have increased their presence this week. Governor Josh Shapiro said air quality tests have been conducted in Pennsylvania, and so it's safe to breathe. The first water test results should be available in a few days. He also met yesterday with the residents who live near the state's border. During a press conference earlier, he tried to assuage any concerns that Pennsylvania residents are being ignored.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOSH SHAPIRO: I want to continue to hear from the residents. Whatever needs they have will be addressed. Whatever costs that are borne in Pennsylvania will be paid for by Norfolk Southern. There will be no problems relative to Ohio getting something that Pennsylvania doesn't.

MORRISON: Republicans have begun to criticize the response of national and local Democratic leaders. Today former President Donald Trump did so while visiting East Palestine. Three days ago, Doug Mastriano, Shapiro's opponent in last year's gubernatorial election, says Pennsylvania residents are being ignored. Although Lee Hostetter says he hasn't seen much government help, he doesn't have politicians on his mind. He places ultimate blame on Norfolk Southern. He thinks the company should have waited until the weather changed before releasing toxic chemicals even though Norfolk Southern said the process was necessary to prevent a catastrophic explosion.

HOSTETTER: The clouds were low. They knew it, and they were just in a hurry to get it out of there so they could bring the trains through. So they put money over human beings as far as I'm concerned.

MORRISON: The weather doesn't heed arbitrary state lines, Hostetter says, and he doesn't think the company's or government's response should either. For NPR News, I'm Oliver Morrison in Pittsburgh.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAYTRANADA'S "BUS RIDE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Oliver Morrison