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Shelter a refuge to evacuated East Palestine residents

EAST PALESTINE — Evacuated East Palestine resident Paul Cochran said “it’s been like hell” not getting to stay in his own home.

Still, he was thankful for help from the American Red Cross, Columbiana County Sheriff’s deputies, state troopers, EMTs and Norfolk Southern people.

He even gave a shout-out for help from school janitors, whom he said have gone out of their way.

Cochran, 69, has been out of his home on South Washington Street since Friday night when an eastbound train derailed and caught fire. He ended up at a hospital for a few hours after being without his medication, but has remained in the shelter since then. His cat, Dusty, remains at home alone, but a sheriff’s deputy took him home to get his medication and check on the cat. He smiled as a small dog named Molly strutted by. “She’s like the shelter pet,” he said.

“I was mad at first,” Cochran said, noting the trains travel faster than they say.

The situation was scary too, he said. “I don’t want anybody to go through this.”

His church pastor, Jeff Schoch, is senior pastor at Abundant Life Fellowship in New Waterford, where Norfolk Southern is assisting families with temporary housing, gasoline and other expenses resulting from the derailment and evacuation of the eastern part of East Palestine. Some residents from Darlington also have been evacuated.

Schoch said he had been on alert since New Waterford, Pa., Mayor Shane Patrone contacted him Friday night. Sunday, he and his wife, Connie, got home and prayed to find a way to help. Then they received a call about serving as the new location for the assistance center. Church personnel make coffee and help direct people, but most of the work is being done by Norfolk Southern personnel. Many church members have been displaced by the derailment, with most staying with family or in local hotels.

“My encouragement is let the system work,” he said.

As people come and go, he and church members offer words of comfort. Before Monday’s controlled release of chemicals from wrecked rail cars, a man came with a child just to sit for a while.

“We get that people are stressed out,” he said.

Brittany Vargo and Marcus Turner, evacuated Friday from North Liberty Street in the village, visited the family assistance center Sunday.

“Keep our little town in everyone’s prayers. This isn’t an ideal situation for anybody to be in,” Brittany said.

She said the railroad was doing a lot to help them.

East Palestine residents Kathy and Travis Smith initially stayed with friends Friday. Fraught with worry, they couldn’t sleep, so they returned home Saturday. However, Kathy said “the smell was much more intense,” and caused her eyes to burn.

Then Sunday police came to the door ordering their evacuation. The biggest effect, she said, has been the anxiety of not knowing and noting dead fish in the creek behind their house.

They’re accompanied by their kids, ages 16 and 21, and their support dog, a golden doodle named Zeke. The kids were on their electronic devices a lot and they brought board games to occupy their time, while also walking Zeke on school grounds.

“This is the craziest thing that’s happened in my lifetime,” Kathy said.

American Red Cross volunteer Malcolm Ritchie, of Dover, said more people came to the shelter Sunday after police went door to door. He and fellow American Red Cross volunteer Jeff Mann of Louisville said many businesses donated food and water.

Mann said 21 people had been at the shelter overnight Monday, then a few left, with most from East Palestine. He said the school superintendent has been very helpful and everybody has been very caring and supportive.

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