What do They Hear Now in East Palestine, Ohio?

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By Sister Cynthia Serjak 

When people asked me where I am from, I have always said, “Oh, a small town in Ohio,” knowing that most people wouldn’t recognize its name. Now I can say “I’m from East Palestine,” and everyone knows where it is.  Unfortunately. 

While I grew up in a rural area outside the town, my grandmother lived right at the edge of it, close enough to hear the wail of the trains as they passed through. On warm summer nights with the windows open, that sound felt comforting to me. And safe. It made me think about all the wonderful places you could go on the rails. To this day, I love trains. 

The train tracks run right through the middle of East Palestine. In my very early years, they stopped to pick up passengers, and I once rode the train to Pittsburgh to visit the zoo. Not long after, our station closed. While the trains no longer stopped for us, they still went through the town, off to places of greater interest to the railroad companies. We still had the sounds, though. My dad once told me that a certain whistle was from conductor saying hello to his wife as he rambled through. 

So my heart has been heavy in these weeks following the train derailment, worrying about the damage and the danger to the people who helped raise me. I still have a cousin who lives in New Waterford, the next town over. And when I see interviews of East Palestine residents, I recognize the family names and know they are the grandchildren of the people who ran the town when I was young.  

I worry for them, for what will happen to them, and whether or not the town — now really a village — will survive this catastrophe.  After a fire or tornado or even earthquake, folks rebuild. But after contamination on this scale? The long-term health concerns are enormous.  

Who will take care of these dear people?  

And what do they hear now, when those whistles sound in the middle of the night?