On a frigid and fiery night one year ago, a train upended lives in East Palestine

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EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — One day in mid-October of last year, Lonnie Miller sat at a small table in her kitchen and thought about the issues that had come to dominate her life: the nightmares about fires and rats, the unusual health problems, the meetings with counselors and physicians, the hateful comments she’d read on social media.

She’d lost her business and was in the process of saying goodbye to her house of nearly 30 years. So much of what Lonnie cherished had been shattered. The village she loved no longer felt like home. At least her small family remained intact and, she hoped, healthy.

The blare of a train horn interrupted her thoughts.

Norfolk Southern tracks run 200 feet from Lonnie’s house on East Clark Street. In her neighborhood, the cadence of life conforms to rail traffic. Passing trains stop conversations as well as traffic. Families watching movies on TV hit the pause button until the rumbling and blaring stops. As a toddler, Lonnie’s son, Austin, pressed his face against a front window to catch glimpses of the passing cars, and they called to him. Gondolas, hoppers, tankers — he learned all the names. Thomas the Tank Engine smiled at him from the pages of children’s books. It was a way of embracing the seemingly benign, inescapable and even friendly presence of trains.

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