EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) – Business owners in East Palestine are struggling more than a month after the toxic chemical spill.
Nate Velez builds and repairs small engines. This time of year, Velez Engines would normally be busy getting mowers ready to run, but it hasn’t had a customer since the train derailment. He is hoping something changes.
“I know the business is probably dead. I don’t think anyone’s coming, customer-wise,” he said.
Velez started the company as a side job in 2014 and made it his main source of income three years ago. He moved to East Palestine from Wexford. He’s paying a mortgage but not living at the home because it’s on the street right next to the chemical spill.
“From day one, I’ve said to my wife over and over again, “We’re on our own.” We figured out how to do it once and now we just gotta do it again,” Velez said.
It won’t be easy. Velez is not anticipating help from a big lawsuit, the railroad or the government.
He works on ATVs and dirt bikes year-round, but when he opens the door out the back of his shop, he sees booms and hoses in the water.
“I don’t know what they’re doing. Cleaning the creek,” Velez said.
Taggart Street is open coming from East Palestine to Velez Engines, but one of Velez’s biggest problems is that the road is coming from the east. It still cuts off most of the traffic. Velez misses working in the shop, tuning an engine, going on test drives, even concentrating so hard that he forgets time. The simple things.
“Check your phone wife’s yelling at me because I haven’t been home yet. Because I miss all that. Just the regular life. Fixing stuff around and up and down the road. Local cops yelling at me for riding dirt bikes on the street,” he said.
Velez appreciates the support from strangers, which he feels is greater than from Norfolk Southern. He knows rebuilding the business will be a major job.
“Like eating an elephant. One bite at a time,” he said.
Velez wants to get his family a new house, but he is still paying that mortgage on the home in East Palestine, which he feels isn’t worth anything.