Joe and Reija Gruber greeted their neighbor Becky Lam with a big hug Wednesday afternoon.

Residents of Foster Street in Wheatley were happy to see each other once again.

“It’s a little overwhelming but I’m so excited to get back to the neighbors and everybody on the street coz they adopted us as soon as we moved in,” said Reija who bought their first home last year.

They lived in the house for only three weeks and were two days away from celebrating Joe’s birthday when the explosion on Aug. 26, 2021 left them and about a hundred other households with nowhere to live.

“We’re happy to be back here. It’s a little surreal not seeing a fence there now. It’s been eight months. We’re excited and happy to get back to our life,” said Joe.

Kay Shaw was very emotional when speaking about what returning home meant. “I’m happy but…” said Shaw pausing to control her emotions. “I’m good. My house is good.”

So is Bob Smiths who lives across the street.

He has a broken window and dirt to clean up but feels he may get into his home in the next week or two.

“We’re glad we’re getting closer,” Smiths said. “I know it’s going to be a week or so before we get in but we can see the end of the tunnel.”

Becky Lamb is ready to move in.

“221 days we’ve been out of our home,” said Lamb. “We’re more than ready.”

But her home is far from being ready to accommodate their return. She and her husband de ella Bugsy walked through the house Wednesday and were overwhelmed by the mold and a flooded basement that required a septic truck to make over three visits.

“There’s a lot of work. There’s a lot of risk to assess and decisions to be made,” said Jeff Medeiros, general manager of Belfor in Chatham-Kent.

As he assesses whether the home should be gutted or torn down, Medeiros feels the Lambs won’t be able to return to live in their home for at least six months.

“It’s definitely a situation we can’t take a cookie cutter approach to,” he said. “Every house has its own set of problems and circumstances. It’s going to be a long time.”

Having moved four times in the last eight months the Lambs are willing to wait.

“The good thing is we can always come home. We can put our lawn chair in the backyard. We have a pool. We can be home. He can sit in his garage,” said Becky.

Fencing that once blocked residents from returning home is now gone which gives some a sense of vulnerability but the Lambs were assured security in the area will not be compromised.

Investigation and remediation work continues in the newer and smaller evacuation zone.

“We’ll get there,” said Shaw. “We’re Wheatley.”


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