EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) — Soon after the announcement that the evacuation order in East Palestine was lifted, we spoke with some people finally able to return to their homes.
One of those people was East Palestine Village Council member Douglas Simpson, who is now breathing a sigh of relief.
“This is my home and I’m glad to be back here,” he said.
We caught up with Simpson as he was unloading his truck. He and his family were in the process of returning to their home on E. Martin Street, just one block off the tracks.
“Just relief mainly. It’s something that couldn’t be predicted,” Simpson said.
Shortly after a 5 p.m. news conference was held, the trains were once again running through East Palestine on the Norfolk Southern tracks.
A few blocks away, East Palestine Elementary School music teacher Brett Hardy was seeing his apartment for the first time since Friday. He lives above the True Value store on Market Street, maybe 100 yards away from the tracks.
“Moving my stuff back in, bringing my stuff back in — we’re finally back,” Hardy said. “It feels good to be here in Bulldog Country.”
Simpson praised the community’s resilience.
“That’s just the way we are, the town comes together. The town always pitches in when there’s a problem. We did good,” he said.
Evacuee Scott Maclear was proof of that resilience when he donated hotel stays to a woman and an elderly man who couldn’t afford them.
“That right there touched me and I figured, give back. Try to give back something. I can’t help a lot but I can help a few,” Maclear said.
The Columbiana County EMA posted a safe reentry plan on its website for those returning home.
Officials are still urging people to avoid the railway itself.
Back at the East Palestine High School gym, a Red Cross shelter has been set up. Volunteers said some people who were staying at the shelter left immediately after the mandatory evacuation order was lifted.
One representative with the Red Cross says that people cheered when the announcement was made.
“They put a television here in the gymnasium and we were able to watch the press releases. When they announced that it was safe to go home, there was a big hoorah, lots of applause. It was fun. It sent chills up your back. It was cool to be with,” said Jeff Mann, Red Cross dayshift team leader.
At its peak, the Red Cross shelter housed 47 people.
The shelter is still open as of Wednesday night. They have staff manning the gym with cots and food. Volunteers say they have had many businesses donate food and other necessities to the shelter.
The Red Cross will be keeping the shelter open for anyone who might return home only to feel unsafe when they do. They say all you need to do is show up at the door and they can help you.