EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) — Businesses in and around East Palestine have slowly begun the return to normal following the lift of the evacuation, and some are facing challenges.
Many businesses on North Market Street are temporarily closed due to the aftermath of the derailment as well, but a few are reopening to customers.
The candles still sit on a counter where they were left last Friday in the 1820 House shop — but this is the first day Melissa Smith and her staff could return to the store after having the air inside checked for pollutants.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the air is safe. However, the agency is conducting air tests for residents and business owners.
“They tested our manufacturing side, the retail side, basement,” Smith says. They found nothing with BOCs, which is good.”
Last Friday’s fiery train derailment closed just about every business in the village because of concerns over safety and air quality.
That night, Smith captured images of the flames and smoke from her farm a mile from the scene.
She’s already made arrangements to have the shop’s air ducts cleaned.
“We have to work here, and we come in every day, so I want my staff to be protected as well as anyone else that’s coming in the door,” Smith says.
Flowers Straight from the Heart, located about a mile from where the train derailed, has been closed for a few days now during what is usually a busy time of year due to Valentine’s Day.
“My phone has not rung at all so, I don’t know are people just going to avoid coming into town,” says owner Joy Mascher.
Mascher has owned the flower shop for nearly 10 years.
“‘What now?’ is what I thought — after COVID and going through that, and now this,” she says. “It’s been a real struggle. It’s very important, being Valentine’s Day, and our business is struggling horribly.”
Mascher says she is feeling lost.
“I don’t know if I should be cleaning. I don’t know if I should throw stuff away,” she says. “It’s just very scary.”
Mascher says in order to keep her customers and employees safe at her shop, she’ll keep her doors closed until she can get the air quality inspection done. She says she’s made multiple phone calls but has yet to hear back from the EPA.
“I want to be safe for me, my workers, my customers that come in, our shop cat, everybody. I want to know that it’s safe,” Mascher says. “Is our little town going to become a ghost town? We’re a tight-knit community. Everybody pulls for everybody, and it’s sad to see this happen.”
As the process of making sure businesses in town are safe for customers and workers alike, they’re not the only ones cleaning up from last weekend. As far away as Petersburg, people are washing soot and smoke from their property.
“The day after, we went outside and noticed that our cars are just kind of gross and brown from all the smoke,” says Ashley Claycomb, a Petersburg resident.
While the derailment still has residents feeling uneasy, Smith has lots of praise for first responders who worked here the last week — but she doesn’t feel the same for the state and federal experts who took over.
“I was waiting at any moment for someone to step forward with a little more information,” Smith says. “Maybe they felt they couldn’t do that, but it made a lot of the residents feel uneasy.”
She now hopes customers will feel comfortable coming back to this little town as East Palestine recovers.