Wheatley Explosion Part One: ‘When I ran out on the street there was nothing but mayhem’

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(Image courtesy letstalkchatham-kent.ca)

Editor’s note: This is the first story in a three-part series from The Daily Commercial News that takes a look at what has been done since the catastrophe in Wheatley and the answers the were found deep below the ground.

By Mary Baxter
Special to The Voice

The downtown building explodes, casting brick, dust, glass and other debris into the air.

The security video records a handful of residents fleeing by foot and one in a black pickup truck. A large chunk of building material crashes into the street.

Firefighters already at the scene rush to aid a colleague who appears to have been caught in the blast.

The dust cloud thickens. At the corner of the street where the building exploded, traffic lights glow green then yellow.

Such was the scene a year ago, August 26, in Wheatley, Ont., a community of 3,000 people on the shores of Lake Erie in Chatham-Kent, when a gas leak from an unknown source in the downtown core reached explosive levels of concentration.

“When I ran out on the street, there was nothing but mayhem,” a resident recalled at a public meeting months after the blast.

Don Shropshire, the former chief administrative officer for Chatham-Kent, says 20 people were treated for injuries. Most were minor; “one of our staff that was seriously injured was off work for several months,” he says.

Dozens of residents and businesses had to be evacuated for months while specialists determined what went wrong and how to fix it.

One year later, remediation nears completion, and big-picture answers to what caused the explosion have been found: a gas leak from one, and possibly from more than one of three locations, all of which contain abandoned wells. One of these wells is gas and the two others are water wells.

To read on, click here.

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