Explosion Aftermath ? Tumbler Ridge residents pick up the pieces

Tumbler Ridge is known for many beautiful hiking trails, dinosaur track-ways, and perseverance. Now, it is known for something else. May 31st, 2009 marks the day of a tragic residential explosion that occurred on Wolverine Avenue. The explosion woke most residents in Tumbler Ridge and could be heard as far as Flatbed Campground.

The explosion took one life but it has since affected many families. Residential explosions of this magnitude are not an everyday occurrence. The families are now slowly putting back the pieces emotionally, financially and physically. Some people lost their homes, some people lost their ability to sleep. It has been almost three months since the night the earth moved. Lots are vacant where houses once stood, siding is missing from homes and boards have replaced windows. There looks as though little has been done to fix the homes affected by this blast. So what is happening? How are these families coping? What are the insurance companies doing?

It has taken almost three months for the blast site to be cleaned. No one came to clean up the mess. Therefore, the District of Tumbler Ridge took on the cleaning. No worries to the taxpayers though, the costs for cleanup will be reclaimed though property taxes and if they are not paid, the property will be sold in a tax sale. In some way, the town will be reimbursed. Clark Hazlehurst also confirmed no public structures were damaged.

A residential explosion of this magnitude is not a common occurrence. Mike Bernier, Manager for PNG Gas in Dawson Creek, has witnessed four explosions in his 20-year career and this one had the most devastation. Many safeguards are in place that prevents this from happening. Natural gas is safe, explained Bernier, as long as you respect it. Bernier explained there was no damage to PNG property as their property includes the underground pipeline and stops at the metre outside a home. This explosion occurred above ground, he explained. As PNG gas workers arrived on scene, gas was shut off to the houses on either side of the home. Bernier also commented the cost incurred by PNG was minimal in this case.

Damages to the homes affected vary. Some had their roofs blown up and then they come back down. Because of this, exterior walls need to be replaced as well as the roof and all windows. Some home?s foundations have been compromised. Family lives have been interrupted and in some cases, people had to be moved out of their home until the damage is repaired. Whatever the damage may be, there is a process. Unfortunately, people are discovering just how slow the process can be.

All people want to do is fix their homes and get on with their lives. The broken windows and siding barely hanging on are just reminders to people the terror they felt that night. Fortunately, for those with insurance, their homes will be fixed and their lives will get back to the way things were. There are laid out steps in the claims process and many different people are involved with each individual claim. The client, broker, adjuster, structural engineer and contractors are required to work together to get the repairs done. The first person usually on the scene is an independent insurance adjuster. Adjusters attend the scene and speak to the homeowners. Their job is to assess the home, see the damage and then if there is a need, a structural engineer is brought onsite to inspect the home and further explore damages. The structural engineer then outlines what work needs to be done and will submit a report to the insurance company. If a homeowner does not agree with the structural engineers report, they are able to hire another structural engineer for a second opinion but the homeowner is responsible for the cost involved.

Living in Tumbler Ridge has been a hindrance according to Tom Davis, Claims Manager for Wawanesa Insurance. Davis, who came to Tumbler Ridge a few days after the explosion, stated in a telephone interview that it was difficult to get structural engineers out to Tumbler Ridge quickly because they are very busy and they have to come from out of town.

In some cases, homeowners are stuck at this part of the process. They are still waiting for structural engineer reports and until then their lives are in limbo. Also, some homes need to have some walls torn down in the basement so the structural engineers can further inspect the foundations. Delays have occurred as permits are required before the walls can come down.

Although it looks as though not much has been done to fix these homes on the outside, a lot has been done to quantify the work that must be done on the inside explained David Chelak, vice-president for regional claims in BC and AB for Dominion Canada. There are 12 claims with Dominion Canada. Dominion Canada was very quick to clean up the homes and move the contents of people?s homes into large storage bins. As great as this is, the reality is that people?s lives are in Sea-Can containers. One homeowner explained they cannot watch TV because their receiver is buried in a Sea-Can. Being unable to watch TV may seem insignificant, but when you are craving ?normal? while living in chaos, it is very significant.

As we are creeping closer to winter and freezing weather conditions, having your most prized possessions in a Sea-Can may be a worry. Chelak confirmed Dominion is aware of the concern homeowners have. Once construction begins, items may be moved slowly back into the homes. However, if needed, heated facilities to store the Sea-Cans will be looked into explained Chelak.

It has also been confirmed by David Foreman, an independent adjuster who is working for Dominion Canada that all freezable items have been removed or will be removed and the Sea-Cans will be resealed.

A contractor has been hired to address the claims for the two insurance companies with the majority of the claims. Construction will be done on a ?priority basis?, explained Tom Davis. He also stated the insurance company?s main interest is to get the repairs done as quickly as possible but they do not want the work to be haphazard. Rebuilding this many homes will require many workers and a lot of time. Onside Restoration will be setting up a project manager, who will set up a home base in Tumbler Ridge, to handle the Wawanesa claims. Davis explained if a homeowner wants to talk to this project manager, you must contact your adjuster.

If you are a homeowner with damages because of this explosion and you are getting little answers to questions you feel are important, keep calling and asking more questions. Call supervisors and then some more supervisors. You need to be your biggest advocate. This is your home and you pay home insurance for a reason. Make sure you read your home policies carefully. Although this has been a tragic lesson, some homeowners have learned just how little their home policy will help them.

A home is one of the biggest investments people make in their lives. It is in the home where you should feel secure and safe. Not only have homes been shattered, the feeling of security has been stolen from people. For example, one homeowner explained she has seen radical behavioural changes in her children and her pets. Sleep is not easy to come by. She stated she is tired and exhausted because she cannot sleep. As a family, she said, they are doing their best to cope. As tough as it is being in a strange home for the time being, she is not going to abandon her home. Having lived there for more than 20 years, she stated, ?It is our home?.

There are many homes to fix and with early winters here in Tumbler Ridge, the contractors will need to work quickly and efficiently. There have been whispers that homeowners can enjoy their homes once again in three months. Unfortunately, some people will be waiting a lot longer.

Piece by piece, as time passes, houses will once again be homes and will offer the sense of security families need. The easy part is putting back the houses as they once were. Families will need more time to heal emotionally and financially. Homeowners may jump at sudden noises and field questions from their children of ?why is the house broken?? Once again, the small town of Tumbler Ridge has pulled together. Before the explosion, a mere wave to a neighbour was the norm. Now neighbours may feel more connected through sharing a common bond, a tragedy that should be a once in a lifetime event. The shared camaraderie is a sliver of a silver lining in what has been an epic year for Tumbler Ridge.