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On Friday, The White House reversed course and began providing FEMA aid to the site of one of the worst chemical disasters in recent memory in East Palestine, Ohio after the agency initially told Ohio’s governor the disaster didn’t qualify.
After a horrific train derailment on Feb. 3, which involved 50 cars carrying toxic vinyl chloride, the small community of East Palestine became the center of a dangerous catastrophe. In order to prevent a disastrous explosion, the Norfolk Southern Railroad company decided to release the dangerous fumes, causing residents to temporarily evacuate the area.
Despite receiving the all-clear, many residents continue to complain about the smell, as fears of contamination grow.
Ohio’s Republican Governor Mike DeWine told reporters his requests for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was at first denied by the White House, according to a report from NPR.
“What East Palestine needs is much more expansive than what FEMA can provide,” White House officials told Fox News Friday morning, explaining that since it wasn’t due to a natural disaster, FEMA wasn’t the appropriate agency to respond.
Meanwhile, DeWine himself was accused of turning down calls from the White House to score political points.
Biden White House reverses course on FEMA aid to East Palestine
Biden defended his initial decision to deny FEMA aid to East Palestine, pointing to other agencies that are supporting residents. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Department of Transportation were all deployed immediately following the disaster.
Since Feb. 4, the agencies have been monitoring air quality, screening homes for contaminants, securing Norfolk Southern Commitment to cover clean up costs, holding Norfolk Southern accountable for clean up and helping ensure water is safe to drink, according to News 10 WBNS.
Starting Saturday, the agency began deploying a Regional Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) to Columbiana County to “support ongoing operations, including incident coordination and ongoing assessments of potential long-term recovery needs,” Gov. DeWine and FEMA Regional Administrator Thomas C. Sivak said in a joint statement.
Moving forward, some legislators are considering changing Congressional rules to make it easier for disasters of all kinds to qualify for FEMA aid.