Debris removal begins in Wheatley as explosion investigation continues

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The process of removing rubble from the area of last Thursday's explosion in Wheatley has begun, and it's expected to take several days to complete.

Chatham-Kent officials held a conference call Wednesday morning to provide an update since last week's explosion.

The source of the ignition is still unknown, however the work to find that out started after the advisory group came up with a safety plan in conjunction with various provincial ministries, local engineers and technical experts. 

Chief Administrative Officer Don Shropshire says anytime there is an event like this, the provincial office of the fire marshal is charged with finding out the source and origin.

"They are currently on site and doing an investigation," he continued. "They're gradually moving through the rubble pile, our fire services and police services team and engineering team will remain on site to provide them with additional support and that investigation is expected to continue for a few days."

Shropshire couldn't give a timeline for when evacuated residents could return either, saying they really can't identify how much longer this will go on.

"What we're trying to get advice from the technical experts is what's the likelihood of a future gas leak or a potential future explosion, I mean we've gone through this three times. There's no guarantee that they can find the leak, that's part of the very difficult discussion but there are some things they can investigate to see if it's a probable cause," Shropshire said.

More than 120 households have sought out aid and the municipality is currently providing housing to 10 households consisting of 27 people.

Shropshire says they're doing the best they can to accommodate everyone impacted with help from their community human services team. 

"We will provide support for those folks, their essential needs will be cared for but I think everybody wants to get back into some sort of a more normalized lifestyle where they can feel safe and secure in their home."

Officials say the evacuation zone, a two-block area around the explosion at 15 Erie Street North, could be reduced once it's believed to be safe. 

Once debris is removed from the site, Shropshire says it's expected that the province will allocate resources to identify the source of the hydrogen sulphide leak and provide recommendations for remediation.

"The province is in the process of securing the technical expertise needed to fulfill its legislated responsibility in this area," he added.

Officials are planning to have some sort of virtual meeting for affected residents soon, but didn't have any details as of Wednesday.

In the meantime, the municipality continues to staff the Wheatley Arena from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. for residents who require information and evacuees that require any after hours support like food, shelter, or clothing can contact case management at 519-354-6628.