Our view: Six months later, too many still feel impact of gas disaster
On some blocks, there are buildings still burned or boarded up, not looking much different than they did in the days following the gas disaster. Through the streets, asphalt patches put in place last fall to cover emergency gas line work have been pulled apart by ice and snow and traffic, crumbling into potholes. There are business owners who aren't seeing as many customers as they once did or -- more critically -- making the money in sales that they did before the disaster.
Wednesday marks the six-month anniversary of the fires and explosions that shook South Lawrence, Andover and North Andover. For the most part — for the vast number of more than 10,000 households and another 800 businesses directly impacted — life long ago regained a semblance of normalcy.
But the lingering reminders of what happened last Sept. 13 are not far from us. That's especially the case for the businesses, homeowners and residents still trying to settle damage claims, get fixtures replaced, or seek compensation for lost wages.
Life certainly hasn’t returned to normal for those whose homes were badly burned and who are still trying to rebuild. And it hasn't returned to normal for the family of Leonel Rondon, the teenager killed when the chimney of an exploding house toppled onto his car. Rondon's sister, Lucianny, last month told a television news interviewer: “I don’t want any other family to go through this, I want justice. It’s not fair for us or any other family to feel this pain.”
For too many people, life after the disaster is not the same as life before it. That was the overwhelming sense of a forum last Wednesday, where business owners still struggling talked about their challenges. The sentiment echoed at a series of town hall forums held Saturday by Columbia Gas.
Junior Hernandez, owner of a market on Loring Street in South Lawrence, described the neighborhood that once bustled in the evenings as a “ghost town” that many have since left. He and others described how their businesses today operate at a fraction of what they once did.
Even in the best of circumstances, it’s hard to see how Columbia Gas and its insurers can fully compensate people whose lives changed so irrevocably when gas lines beneath the streets over-pressurized due to an engineering error on a project to upgrade infrastructure in South Lawrence.
Those affected by the gas disaster, and particularly the businesses, have now spent more than a full season coming to grips with this new reality. The good news for those still struggling is the new involvement of the small-business resource group E for All and its Spanish language program, EsparaTodos. The organization is helping business owners with marketing, bookkeeping, accounting, even the basics of processing their claims.