A year ago this coming Friday, the people of Wheatley, Ontario, part of the municipality of Chatham-Kent in the south west corner of the province, were just sitting there minding their own business around diner time when – BOOM! – two downtown buildings blew up. It feels like we don’t talk enough about how a small town in Ontario exploded last summer, so for our second of two repeats, let’s talk about it again.
Last summer, the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry installed gas monitor’s in downtown Wheatley after residents had repeated smelled the unmistakable scent of hydrogen sulphide gas. The monitors went off on the afternoon of August 26, and 90 minutes later two buildings were destroyed, several more were damaged, and 100 people living in the area around the core were evacuated.
Life in Wheatley has slowly gotten back to normal. Clean up work at the site is done and it was a process that took a very long time because work crews had to avoid setting off a spark. Three old natural gas wells, which are believed to have been the source of the gas that caused the explosion, are nearly all capped and a pressure relief well has now been installed, but the events of last summer are still affecting some residents, and one of them is my sister, Stephanie Charbonneau.
Last December, I interviewed Stephanie for an episode of the podcast, and we will re-visit that conversation this week. We talked about what happened before, during and after August 26, and we also talked about the information void, and whether the Wheatley disaster got enough attention. We also discussed how residents had to be proactive to stay informed about when they might be able to go home, and for the record, while Stephanie does finally have access to her house, she and her family still can’t live there due to the damage and the fact that they weren’t able to winterize their home.
So let’s go back to Wheatley on this repeat edition of the Guelph Politicast!
If you want to see the latest information about what’s going on in Wheatley, at least in terms of how the government is working to prevent another gas leak, check out this August 11 article from the CBC, plus this July 20 article and this August 9 article from Chatham-Kent News Today.
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Photo courtesy of Ellwood Shreve from the Chatham Daily News