28 Aug 2021
Two days after a gas explosion rocked downtown Wheatley, the community came together to support those who have been displaced from their homes.
Following an explosion Thursday night at the corner of Erie Street North and Talbot Street East, residents have gathered resources to help families who have been forced to leave their homes indefinitely. With the site still in danger of another explosion, officials in Chatham-Kent have completely cleaned up the area and placed people in hotels.
Mike Renwick and his wife Erica own Renny’s the Village Smokehouse in downtown Wheatley. Their restaurant is in the evacuation area and he couldn’t see the damage he suffered.
Still, the couple have set up a trailer with food from the Leamington Regional Food Hub for families in need.
“I’m a concerned citizen. I’ve lived in the city my whole life, so the things that happened in the last two days here really set me back. As a business owner in the city, I felt I had to give and help. There are a lot of people who need help, “said Mike Renwick.
He added that around 20 families have already stopped to pick up supplies.
“[People are] scared. Our city has just exploded, ”he said.
“They were moved from their homes. We have a family of five that I was talking to that knocked on at home. I have three children myself. They are staying in a hotel until Tuesday and they don’t know where they will stay after [that]. “
In response to CBC News, the municipality said anyone in need of shelter will continue to benefit from it, although they may have to move it from their current hotels. More details are expected next week.
Provincial officials investigate the site of the blast
According to city officials, 10 staff from the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office are on site consulting with technical experts to assess the current risk.
A Windsor Hazardous Materials team is also on hand to help.
In a press release, Chatham-Kent said it was considering adjusting the evacuation area.
City officials also met with members of the Ministry of the Solicitor General and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry on Saturday morning to get additional people on site.
During this meeting, the municipality said it had underlined the need for an investigation to determine the source of the hydrogen sulfide gas leak.
Chatham-Kent Administrative Director Don Shropshire told CBC News they couldn’t start cleaning up the debris until they stabilized the area and obtained readings of the hydrogen sulfide at the site damaged.
“We’re not taking any breaks until we can solve this challenge to get people back to their homes and businesses, but we have to do it when it’s safe,” he said.
At present, the municipality says it does not know exactly how many families are displaced as some are staying in hotels but others have left the area to stay with their families.
A triage center is still operating outside the Wheatley Area Arena from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for those in need of assistance. After hours, Shropshire says people can call 519-354-6628.
Hear “a lot of hope”
Lauren Anderson, president of Active Citizens of Wheatley, also supported the people.
She says they are setting up a GoFundMe and trying to get enough money to buy meals or clothes that other families might need.
“There are a bunch of different emotions that people are feeling right now, the biggest one is probably sadness and fear,” she said. “Another thing I often hear is hope. People are reaching out to see what they can do to help, who needs what.”
Anderson is a nurse at a local hospital and was working when the explosion call arrived.
“Getting that call there when I was working is something I will never forget,” she said. “We were all extremely scared of ‘Is everyone okay? Is anyone hurt? Did they find everyone?’ After I left work and the adrenaline wore off, there was also a bit of anger. ”
Right now, she says they just want the needs of families to be better taken care of, including maintaining shelter, until they can return home.