LAWRENCE (CBS) – Nine weeks after gas explosions killed one and displaced thousands in the Merrimack Valley, hundreds of residents spent Thanksgiving outside of their homes.
Some are living in trailers, some in hotels. Others are back home, but without the ability to cook on gas stoves.
The gas company behind those explosions and the months-long restoration project provided 16,000 Thanksgiving meals to its affected residents. All meals were prepared by the staff at Tuscan Kitchen, a Salem, New Hampshire restaurant.
Approximately 15,000 meals were distributed to be taken home or to hotels. Dozens of volunteers – including local police and firefighters – stood in bitter cold single-digit temperatures to distribute boxes to people who had signed up for assistance.
“[I’m] very unhappy about it, but we’ve got to do what we got to do,” said Lawrence resident Marcus Morton as he waited in his truck for a boxed meal. He planned to spend the holiday in his hotel room with his wife, kids, brother, and parents. He was recently informed that hotel stay would be extended to December 19, despite Columbia Gas’ deadline of December 16 to turn the gas back on.
“December 16 is still the date,” said Columbia spokesperson Scott Ferson. “We’re working faster than that and homes are actually being completed at a faster pace.”
Recently-elected Congresswoman Lori Trahan and her family were among those handing out boxed meals. “This has been going on way too long, and we never thought we would be celebrating Thanksgiving with so many people still displaced,” she told WBZ. “So we just want to make sure people have a good holiday.”
Trahan said she will participate in Congressional hearings about the Merrimack Valley Gas Explosions, set to start in D.C. on Monday, November 26.
An additional 1,000 meals were provided by Columbia Gas and served in decorated tents for residents with nowhere to go. In the tents outside the Lawrence temporary RV park, Evelyn Corona sat for dinner with her 4-year-old triplet boys. Her family of nine has been living in two trailers for weeks, and she says her boys were happy for a chance to stretch their legs. “It was exciting because we are going to eat out,” Corona said. “Because [the boys were] thinking we were going to eat in the backyard.”
While thousands are their meals provided by Columbia, the company’s gas workers were still outside, continuing the effort to get the gas turned back on. “They came from other parts of the country and aren’t with their families – and so since they’re here, they wanted to be able to complete the job they had started,” said spokesperson Scott Ferson.