Tiffany Thompson sits on a bench amongst the remnants of a community lot where neighbors encouraged each other to reduce, reuse and recycle in Curtis Bay. Photo by Kristen Mosbrucker.

The massive explosion behind the chain link fences of the CSX Transportation Coal Piers was heard for miles across Baltimore on Dec. 30, 2021. It shook the earth beneath Curtis Bay residents’ homes breaking windows, spreading a new layer of coal dust across the neighborhood and was even caught on video.

Tiffany Thompson, a native of nearby Cherry Hill, moved to Curtis Bay three years ago. The 49-year-old mother and former educator has not only noticed a difference in her physical health, she’s been having trouble breathing these days, but the traumatic experience of a loud explosion has forced her to hope for the best but plan for the worst.

“I often talk to my children and say, if we hear a boom too close, grab the cat, grab the dog we’re going to just run outside into the school field,” Thompson said during a visit to her home on a hill above the coal pier.

She keeps a pair of shoes near the front door at all times, just in case.

“That’s our emergency exit because we don’t know what that boom is going to mean or how it’s gonna look,” she said and remembered the explosion vividly. “It was like the world shook for us. It was a little scary because you didn’t know what was going on.”

Officials claim that no residents or workers were injured by the blast though some neighbors interviewed for this story counter that there were unreported injuries. Baltimore City leaders hosted two informational hearings to uncover the details of the explosion in June and August. A third party investigation was conducted to determine the cause of the explosion. A $121,000 fine by OSHA for violating worker safetyDisgruntled residents filed a lawsuit seeking class action status. Organizers have been protesting the coal pier for months. State officials negotiated air quality violation fines for nearly six months. Countless community meetings, hours of eyewitness testimony, a verbal lashing from Baltimore City council members have all transpired in the past year.

But roughly a month after the explosion, CSX’s coal operation had continued as the second largest coal exporter on the East Coast.

The CSX coal terminal was temporarily shuttered between late December 2021 and was still offline in early January 2022. It wasn’t until February when the operation resumed.

Read more (and listen) at WYPR.