After a tense meeting with officials on Wednesday, the angry, afraid, and frustrated residents of the sleepy Ohio town of East Palestine were left with few answers.
The Norfolk Southern railroad company, whose train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed 13 days ago as it passed through the town and started a large fire, was the target of much of the rage.
Just hours before the meeting started, company representatives canceled, citing security issues.
Emergency personnel carried out a controlled release of vinyl chloride from five railcars that were in danger of blowing up after the derailment. Thick black smoke towered over the town, but workers checking the air quality tried to reassure residents that everything was going according to plan.
Many locals claim that despite the officials' assurances, they remained fearful of the possible negative effects, which they claim had already affected both people and wildlife.
Thousands of dead fish have been discovered in the town's creeks, and residents have reported to the local media that their chickens and other pets have fallen ill.
Many people have reported having trouble getting their water tested, which fuels their mistrust of what they perceive to be an insufficient and ineffective crisis response.
Hundreds of locals repeatedly questioned officials about the quality of the air and water in the area under the banners and murals of a high school gymnasium.
"I feel the same frustration. I reside in the neighborhood, just like you," East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway said, his face showing obvious signs of exhaustion. "I'm looking for responses. ".
Norfolk Southern announced that it would not attend the meeting just hours before it began.
The business issued a statement claiming that due to the likelihood of "outside parties" taking part, it had grown "increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat" to its employees.
Even before the event began, the company's absence left many residents seething.
"They are concealing something. If you know how to respond to questions, you don't back out of them, according to East Palestine resident Jaime Cozza. "Our town felt like it had been hit by a bomb. " .
Lifelong resident Chris Wallace - who remains unable to return to his house near a local creek - told the BBC that many townspeople had long been concerned about the speeds at which trains went through East Palestine, as well as the potential dangers of exhausted staff.
They ought to be here responding to inquiries, he said. They have a lot to conceal. They want us to remain in the dark. We were bombed. " .
Norfolk Southern has been contacted by the BBC for comment.
Mr. Wallace and Ms. Cozza claimed that they are working with other locals to form a coalition in order to hire outside experts to examine the soil and water, as well as an attorney to address any legal concerns.
Officials in the crowded gymnasium were repeatedly questioned about what many locals said they saw as conflicting and confusing health advice, including US Congressman Bill Johnson.
Scott McLear said, "They kept saying it's fine to drink the water, but also to drink bottled water.". "That is not a response. yastmastmastmastmasticlericardsti as. " .
Officials at the meeting had to repeatedly ask locals to maintain civility, with Mayor Conaway reminding those present that "we're all adults here.".
The head of Ohio's Health Department, Bruce Vanderhoff, told the crowd that the levels of toxins in the air and water supplies were much lower than those that could harm humans, despite the fact that officials at the event acknowledged that the toxins from the derailment had been fatal to wildlife, particularly fish.
A woman in the bleachers asked, "Why are people getting sick if there's nothing in the air or the water?" to loud cheers from the audience.
For his part, Congressman Johnson offered what he described as a "common sense" viewpoint.
He declared, "I'm not a doctor, and I'm not a chemist.". "See your doctor if you have any ailments or conditions that you did not have before February 3rd. Ensure that is recorded. ".
Michael Regan, the director of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is scheduled to visit East Palestine on Thursday to meet with regional leaders and evaluate the response to the derailment.
He would speak about the EPA's "air monitoring and work to ensure the health and safety of the community," according to a statement from the agency. " .
However, Mr. Regan's visit may come as too little, too late for some locals.
A young man who only wanted to be known as Owen declared, "I have absolutely no faith whatsoever.". "The responses they are providing might be accurate. However, they are not being delivered in a way that will improve anyone's mood.