There was relief — and tears — in Wheatley, Ont., as residents displaced by last summer’s explosion were allowed to return to their homes Wednesday and reunite with their neighbours.
The residents have not been able to live in their properties since the August blast, and some have quite a task ahead before they can move back in.
Becky and Bugsy Lamb regained access to their property to find about 61 centimetres of sewage and water flooding their basement. Mould has seeped up and covers everything in the house.
They have a sewage pump in their basement, but with no hydro and rainwater coming in, it just filled up, the couple said.
“Today is bittersweet … we knew what we were walking into,” Becky said. “We already know that we have a lot of problems, but you know what? We’re home, we’re back, our neighbours are pulling up.”
The Lambs’ home is one of several that property restorer Jeff Medeiros expects to do work on in the community.
Some aren’t so bad but others are like the Lambs, Medeiros said.
“I’ve been in the industry about 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
With their house currently uninhabitable, the Lambs must wait for their insurance to decide whether it should be gutted and repaired or completely taken down. The couple would like a fresh start, with the house torn down.
“We know what we prefer because we smelled it, we were in it, but it’s up to them,” Becky said.
WATCH | Property restorer Jeff Medeiros says Wheatley home damage among worst he’s seen:
Nearly 100 households and dozens of businesses were displaced after the explosion rocked Wheatley’s downtown on Aug. 26, 2021. Crews have been investigating the source of the blast ever since.
Over the weekend, the municipality of Chatham-Kent announced it would reduce the size of the evacuation zone around the site of the explosion, allowing 34 households and six businesses to return.
On Wednesday, crews were out moving the fencing that blocks people from going in or out of the evacuation zone.
The job on the other side of the street, at the Lambs’ neighbours’ home, is much less daunting.
Joe Gruber said getting back to the home and being reunited with his neighbours was an overwhelming feeling.
“To see each other back by our houses, it’s kind of surreal right now, to be honest.”
Joe and his wife Reija said their home just needs a good cleaning, but they won’t be allowed to move back for now either. They still have utilities to hook up, which could take a few weeks, before they’re allowed to occupy the house.
Reija said she hopes to be back in by the end of the month.
The couple bought their house just three weeks before the explosion. With their new start in a new neighbourhood put on hold, they are eager to get back to it.
“We haven’t even finished unpacking yet, to be honest,” Joe said.
While some families have received good news, others have not been able to return home — they’re still within the evacuation zone and living in limbo.
Margaret Wall lived close enough to the blast for debris to end up in her yard. She said her house is also full of mould.
She’s now living in a cottage, but will have to move again at the end of the month.
“It would be awesome to be able to start work on our house and move back in but … we don’t know how long it will be.”
The municipality of Chatham-Kent said it is still providing assistance for temporary accommodation to those who are still displaced. It said it will also try to provide limited access to residents’ homes as needed when it’s deemed safe.