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Wheatley bands together as community left reeling from blast; provincial officials on site

Two days after a gas explosion rocked downtown Wheatley, the community has come together to support those who have been displaced from their homes. 

Staff from the Ontario Fire Marshal's Office are investigating, Chatham-Kent officials say

Mike Renwick and his wife Erica have a trailer packed with food from the Leamington Regional Food Hub for people displaced from their homes. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

Two days after a gas explosion rocked downtown Wheatley, the community has come together to support those who have been displaced from their homes. 

Following a blast Thursday evening at the corner of Erie Street North and Talbot Street East, locals have been gathering resources to help families who have been forced out of their homes indefinitely. Since the site is still at risk of another explosion, Chatham-Kent officials have completely cleared the surrounding 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 hasn't been able to see the damage it has sustained. 

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 town my whole life so the things that have occurred over the last couple days here have really set me back. As a business owner in town, I felt like I needed to give back and help. There's a lot of people that need help," said Mike Renwick. 

He added that about 20 families have already stopped by to pick up supplies. 

"[People are] scared. Our town just blew up," he said.

"They're displaced from their homes. We've got a family of five that I was just talking to and that hit home. I have three kids of my own. They're staying at a hotel until Tuesday and they don't know where they're going to stay after [that]."

The trailer is filled with fresh and canned foods. People can either request a package or pick up what they need. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

In response to CBC News, the municipality says everyone who needs shelter will continue to get it covered, though they may have to move them from their current hotels. More details are expected next week. 

Provincial officials investigating explosion site 

According to municipal officials, 10 staff members from the Ontario Fire Marshal's Office have been on scene and are consulting with technical experts to assess the current risk.

A hazardous materials team from Windsor is also on site helping out. 

In a news release, Chatham-Kent said it is considering adjusting the evacuation area. 

Municipal officials also met with members of the Ministry of the Solicitor General and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry Saturday morning to get additional people on site. 

Business owners neighbouring the site of Thursday's explosion say more should have been done to identify the source of an on-going gas leak in the area. (@_OnLocation_)

In this meeting, the municipality says it emphasized the need for an investigation to determine the source of the hydrogen sulphide gas leak. 

Chatham-Kent's chief administrative officer Don Shropshire told CBC News they can't begin clearing debris until they stabilize the area and get readings of the hydrogen sulphide gas on the damaged site. 

"We're not taking any breaks until we can solve that challenge to get people back into their homes and businesses but we have to do that when it's safe," he said. 

At this time, the municipality says it's unsure exactly how many families are displaced as some are staying in hotels but others left the area to stay with family. 

A triage centre is still being run out of Wheatley Area Arena from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for people in need of support. After hours, Shropshire says people can call 519-354-6628.

Hearing 'a lot of hope'

Lauren Anderson, chair of the Active Citizens of Wheatley, has also been supporting people. 

She says they are setting up a GoFundMe and are trying to get enough money to buy meals or clothing other families might need.

"There's a bunch of different emotions people are feeling right now, the biggest one is probably sadness and fear," she said. "Another thing I hear a lot of is hope. People are reaching out to see what they can do to help, who needs what." 

Community members in Wheatley have joined together to support their neighbours by offering food donations. The town is currently closed off following a gas explosion Thursday evening. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

Anderson is a nurse at a local hospital and was working when the explosion call came in. 

"Getting that call there when I was working is something that I'll never forget," she said. "We were all extremely frightened of 'is everyone okay? Is there anyone that's hurt? Have they found everyone?' After I left work and the adrenaline wore off, there was a bit of anger, too." 

At this time, she says they just want to see the families' needs best supported, including continued shelter, until they can return home. 

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