EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — Former President Donald Trump was in East Palestine Wednesday as the village continues its cleanup from the train derailment that took place nearly three weeks ago.
The visit by Trump, who is again running for the presidency in 2024, comes as the situation in Columbiana County continues to evolve almost hourly.
Trump's first stop on his visit was at The Original Roadhouse restaurant, where residents lined the streets waiting for the former president's arrival. He then surveyed Little Beaver Creek, one of the waterways affected by the chemical spill.
U.S. Senator JD Vance and U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson were among those in East Palestine for Trump's visit on Wednesday. Vance spoke to the media about what it means to have Trump visit East Palestine.
A video of Trump arriving in East Palestine can be viewed below:
Earlier in the week, the East Palestine City School District announced that schools will be closed on Wednesday due to "heightened security measures" and "significant number of street closures."
Trump's visit concluded with remarks at the East Palestine Fire Department, where he was flanked by Vance and Johnson as well as Mayor Trent Conaway and Fire Chief Keith Drabick. In his speech, the former president paid tribute to the village's residents and first responders, assuring them "you are not forgotten."
"We stand with you, we pray for you, and we will stay with you in your fight to help [get] the accountability that you deserve," Trump said.
The train wreck occurred on Feb. 3, when the 150-car Norfolk Southern freight train came off the tracks and caught fire. Due to the potential for an explosion, officials evacuated everyone within a one-mile radius and conducted a "controlled release" of hazardous chemicals. Although residents were cleared to return home just days following the release, there continue to be health and safety concerns.
Last Friday, Gov. Mike DeWine assured residents that no contamination in the air has been found, while also emphasizing that municipal water is safe to drink in East Palestine. The governor also announced that a chemical plume in the Ohio River has since completely dissipated.
In addition, DeWine also announced on that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be sending a senior response official and a management assistance team to East Palestine on Saturday. The announcement came just hours after the governor said he "[did] not expect" members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be in the village.
FEMA came up in Trump's remarks, as he claimed the agency had said they "would not send federal aid to East Palestine under any circumstance." This is not true, for while FEMA had previously told the state it did not qualify for specific assistance, DeWine had said this was because the agency "most typically involved with disasters where there is tremendous home or property damage" such as hurricanes or tornadoes. The governor has also not declared the derailment to be an official disaster, perhaps partly because of fears this could shield the railroad from potential liability.
DeWine, who was not with Trump on Wednesday, had previously spoken with current President Joe Biden immediately after the wreck and said further federal aid was not necessary (members of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have been on the ground virtually from the moment the wreck occurred). The governor later requested help from the CDC and Department of Health and Human Services, and the Biden administration granted that request before also sending a FEMA crew.
"I want affected residents to know that we've got your back," Biden tweeted Tuesday. "And as I said to your [governors], they'll have every resource that they need."
Conaway's appearance with Trump came just days after he ripped Biden for going to Ukraine in the aftermath of the derailment, even though he had previously said it wasn't necessary for the current president to come to the village. The mayor later partly walked back those comments, and on Wednesday repeated his desire for residents to get back to a normal life.
"We want our community to go back to the way it was," Conaway said, before joking to the media, "We appreciate you being here, but at some point, we ask you to leave."
Before departing, Trump bought McDonald's for all East Palestine firefighters, whom Conaway declared "saved" the village with their response to the crash.
Editor's Note: 3News' Monica Robins contributed to this story