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'Here we go again:' 2nd gas leak evacuation leaves Wheatley business owners disheartened

The mayor of Chatham-Kent declared a state of emergency on Tuesday over the gas leak.

'I think right now it’s time for the proper authority to walk in and fix this,' says local business owner

Maurice Raffoul, owner of M.J.'s Pizza is located next door to where the gas leak was detected. This is the second time he has had to close since June. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

For the second time in two months, a gas leak has forced dozens of people out of their homes and businesses in downtown Wheatley. 

Chatham-Kent Fire Services said hydrogen sulfide gas was detected on Monday in the former Pogue restaurant, which sits at the corner of Erie and Talbot Streets, the town's main intersection. Fifty-two people, including 13 businesses and 23 homes have been told to leave the area. 

Maurice Raffoul owns M.J.s Pizza, one of the businesses that has been evacuated. It is located right next door to where the gas was detected. Raffoul's wife was the first person to smell the gas. 

"She called me early and she was starting to smell sewer so we got a hold of the guy next door and his monitor was going off and we called the fire department," said Raffoul. 

Raffoul and his wife are concerned about how this evacuation — their second in two months — is going to impact their business. 

"We opened up July 2 so we've been going. I lost a couple of employees but that's OK, we'll figure that out and now, here we go again," said Raffoul. 

Businesses and residents were first displaced in early June when a leak was detected in the same spot. Businesses were down for a little more than two weeks. 

“We opened up july 2nd so we’ve been going. I lost a couple of employees but that’s ok, we’ll figure that out and now, here we go again," said Raffoul, owner of M.J.'s Pizza. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Raffoul said he lost approximately $6,000 worth of food from his freezers when he was closed the first time. Once he reopened, he bought new pizza ovens but he may cancel the order because of the latest shutdown. 

"I think right now it's time for the proper authority to walk in and fix this. We've been here for a very long time and this is completely unnecessary. They felt it's gone away; it hasn't gone away. It needs to be fixed," said Raffoul. 

The Municipality of Chatham-Kent has been taking samples to help indicate what the source of the gas might be but a return for residents and businesses has not yet been determined.

"Being very realistic about it, given we're a couple of days away from being able to have test results and understanding whether or not there continues to be monitoring to see if there's any presence of gas easily we're a few days away from where could turn our minds to a conversation like that," Cathy Hoffman, acting CAO of Chatham-Kent.

Hoffman said that people who are impacted can sign up for an email list through 311 that will keep them updated as things move along.  

Doug Walker operates a heating, cooling, refrigeration and gas company in Wheatley. He recently sold Raffoul his new pizza ovens but he is concerned Raffoul will may cancel the order due to the latest closure. 

"He's invested a lot of money into his business. He's been here with his family for 35 years. He's an intricate part of this town," said Walker. 

Doug Walker sold new pizza ovens to Maurice Raffoul. He is concerned the order will have to be cancelled due to the latest closure. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Walker said residents and business owners have been helping one another out with shelter and support during the evacuation. 

"The people of this town are just completely awesome," said Walker.

Despite his positive feelings for the people in the town, he is frustrated that the area has had to close down a second time. 

"This on top of COVID [-19] is devastating," said Walker. "This is the hub of the town. This is where people come together and socialize. This is the centre of Wheatley and who we are as people." 

With files by Jacob Barker

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