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Situation remains unstable in Wheatley

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The situation remained unstable in the town of Wheatley this weekend after Thursday’s gas explosion, municipal officials say.

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People were still being asked to avoid Wheatley, with the exception of local traffic. A large section of Erie Street and Talbot Street remained closed off entirely to traffic and pedestrians.

Firefighters continued to douse rubble with water while the investigation continued. On Friday, the municipality called on the province to take responsibility for the situation, noting it’s within its mandate and expertise.

In a media release Saturday afternoon, the municipality stated that Chatham-Kent staff and the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office are consulting with technical experts to analyze current risks and consider adjustments to the evacuation area and detour routes.

“Our primary consideration has been and continues to be public safety,” said Chatham-Kent’s top administrator, Don Shropshire. “We recognize that this situation is difficult for residents and businesses in Wheatley and we will make whatever accommodation we can make but only if we can do so in a safe manner. At this point, the situation remains unstable.”

Shropshire said officials met with representatives of the Ministry of the Solicitor General and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry on Saturday morning to express the urgency of finding the source of the leak.

“I am certain provincial officials are fully aware of the issue and the consequences of inaction.” he added. “The province is committed to bringing in technical experts to assess how they can enter the evacuated zone with the aim of finding the source of the leak, stopping it and beginning the cleanup.”

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Municipal staff have been at Wheatley arena since Thursday to offer help to evacuees, including information on temporary accommodations.

In early June, hydrogen sulphide – a toxic, corrosive and highly flammable gas – was discovered at an Erie Street North building in the town, forcing the evacuation of homes and businesses.

Chatham-Kent officials later declared a state of emergency.

The following month, three dozen homes and businesses in Wheatley were evacuated after hydrogen sulphide was again detected at the site of the previous leak.

Gas-monitoring devices placed at the site indicated the presence of gas Thursday afternoon, setting off alarms and triggering a 911 response.

First responders had evacuated the buildings closest to the alarm and were in the process of evacuating a wider area when the explosion occurred.

Officials said Friday 20 people were injured in total. Thirteen people were treated at the scene while seven others were taken to hospitals in Windsor and Leamington, including three with serious but not life-threatening injuries.

Numerous fundraisers and donation drives are currently underway to assist those in need, including a GoFundMe account that can be found at: www.gofundme.com/f/help-wheatley-disaster-relief-fund?qid=88b940d6000d9d350ff344417cc724d1.

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