When Ben Ratner was selected to be an extra in the film White Noise — which follows a train that derails and spills toxic chemicals — he could not have known that less than two years later he would be living the movie.
The similarity between the film and his real life is not lost on him.
"Talk about art imitating life," he told People. "This is such a scary situation. And you can just about drive yourself crazy thinking about how uncanny the similarities are between what's happening now and in that movie."
One of the gases released by the massive derailment was vinyl chloride, which is both toxic and flammable. A decision was made to burn the chemicals in an effort to prevent a possible explosion.
Mr Ratner and most of the town were told to evacuate.
He and his wife and children left town and spent just over a week crashing with friends and relatives and even at an Airbnb before the evacuation order was lifted and they returned home.
The signs of the chemicals were apparent, according to Mr Ratner.
"Once we got back, we did a lot of cleaning and let the house air out, but all those chemicals that burned create byproducts, like hydrochloric acid, in the form of a film that's been left on the surfaces of our homes," he said.
Like most of his neighbors, Mr Ratner worries about the long term health of himself and his loved ones.
"We still need answers about how to keep our families safe while also maintaining some sort of regular existence for our kids," he said.
Mr Ratner and his neighbors did get some new information, though it wasn't encouraging; the US Environmental Protection Agency notified Norfolk Southern that the train had also been carrying three other hazardous chemicals — butyl acrylate, ethyhexyl acrylate, and ethylene glycol.
The coffeeshop owner and film extra said that he actually tried to watch the movie, White Noise, during the the evacuation period. He said he couldn't finish the film.
"It wasn't something I wanted to be entertained by because, for us, it's a real-life situation," he said.
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