LAWRENCE (CBS) – Baby footprints, sneakers, diplomas, and a handful of sweet cards written by their daughters when they were younger. These are the few memories Veronica and Ivan Soto can physically hold onto after their Lawrence home burned to the ground last September in the Merrimack Valley gas explosions.
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Veronica assumed the sentimental keepsakes were lost forever. But, on the same day crews began the process of building her new home, Veronica found these charred and cherished items in the ashes. “It means so much to us,” she told WBZ-TV.
Veronica and Ivan have graciously agreed to share their story and the long road back home with us. We first sat down with them back in November. They were living in an apartment and waiting for construction to begin on what will eventually be their new home. It’s now been 5 months since the disaster and in that time the rubble has been replaced with real progress: the frame of a two-story open-concept colonial. “We are standing in our future new home,” Ivan explained while giving us a tour.
Coincidentally, while we were visiting with the Sotos, Columbia Gas, the company responsible for the disaster, was at work outside laying down the new gas lines.
“I didn’t even look at them,” Veronica said. Trust could be an issue for years to come.
“What if I leave my house one day and this happens again? Not just to us, but to anyone who went through it that day,” Veronica said, referring to the thousands of residents across Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover who were all evacuated during the September disaster. “The odds are astronomical,” Ivan admitted but it’s “still in the backs of our minds.”
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Top of mind in his community is Ivan’s heroism on the day of the explosions. With his home on fire and his family safe Ivan rushed back to his job as a Lawrence police officer. That commitment to community is why Ivan and Veronica were guests of Congresswoman Lori Trahan at the State of the Union.
The Sotos say they are happier these days compared to when we first met but “it’s still a lot to take in,” Veronica explained. And the anger of what happened has not yet subsided. “I don’t want to waste that energy. You really don’t get anything out of being angry all the time. But I am upset.”
The shell of their new home provides hope that can’t be measured in square footage. Soon there will be walls and decorations including the charred flag that flew outside their old home.
Veronica had it framed for Ivan. It’s a reminder of the nightmare they have endured and the dream of getting back home. “The flag tells a story. It shows resilience.”
Just like the Sotos.
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