COLUMBUS, Ohio — Just hours after saying he "[did] not expect" members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be in East Palestine, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine now confirms the government entity will, in fact, be sending a crew to assist with the aftermath of the train derailment in the village.
In a joint statement released Friday night, DeWine and FEMA Regional Administrator Thomas C. Sivak said the agency would deploy a Regional Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) to Columbiana County starting Saturday, along with a senior response official. The workers will "support ongoing operations, including incident coordination and ongoing assessments of potential long-term recovery needs."
"The Biden-Harris Administration has mobilized a robust, multi-agency effort to support the people of East Palestine, Ohio," the White House said in a statement of its own earlier this afternoon. "As President Biden told Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro soon after the derailment, the Federal Government stands ready to provide any additional federal assistance the states may need."
DeWine had previously requested federal help, and today the Department of Health and Human Services announced toxicologists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be journeying to East Palestine to assist with public health testing. However, the governor's request for FEMA assistance was initially denied, with the agency apparently telling his office the current situation "[did] not quality for assistance."
"Although FEMA is synonymous with disaster support, they're most typically involved with disasters where there is tremendous home or property damage," DeWine told reporters in a Friday press conference, adding this would include situations like tornadoes, flooding, or hurricanes."
It is unknown what changed in the time since those remarks, but the governor did confirm he would "preemptively file a document with FEMA to preserve our rights in case we need their assistance in the future." DeWine has not declared the crash aftermath to be a federal disaster, perhaps because of concerns doing that could shield the Norfolk Southern Railway from liability.
"Let's say, for example, the railroad stops paying, for whatever reason," DeWine said Friday of filing the paper. "We're still going to go after the railroad, but we want to make sure that there will be support for people if that support does, in fact, stop from the railroad."
The wreckage from the freight train led to the release of multiple potentially toxic materials both into the air and into waterways. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has continued to say both the air and municipal drinking water are safe, with DeWine adding that a chemical plume in the Ohio River has since completely dissipated.