NORTH ANDOVER (CBS) – Dean and Mona Thornhill are still counting the days since the Merrimack Valley gas explosions. Five months after the disaster many families, including the Thornhills, are still dealing with the aftermath.

We first introduced you to the Thornhills last fall. Their North Andover home had to be completely gutted after the fire and their insurance may not cover all of the needed repairs. Still, they manage to stay hopeful.

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“I guess we have a mission to make the house, to give it life again,” explained Dean while standing inside his family home of 42 years. It’s now stripped down to the studs.

Dean and Mona Thornhill inside their North Andover home. (WBZ-TV)

“It’s like walking into a barn with a lot of history,” Dean told WBZ. “It’s hard to tell which room you’re in. It’s all out of focus,” added Mona.

What is clear is the scope of the damage. The fire, which they blame squarely on Columbia Gas, forced the interior demolition of their home. Their furniture and many family treasures couldn’t be saved. And yet the Thornhills remain hopeful.

“If you stay angry, they win, you know? Because you’re the one that suffers. You’re the one who doesn’t sleep,” said Dean. The couple compares the entire experience to coping with grief.

It’s “the loss of our life for the past five months. Every day we’re doing something we wouldn’t be doing,” like meeting with lawyers, insurance adjusters, and contractors.

The Thornhills’ top priority is reopening the home day care on the property. Their daughter-in-law who now owns the business hasn’t received a paycheck since the September 13th disaster. The extent of the damage was not as bad in the day care and crews are already repainting the space.

On the day of the gas explosions the Thornhills’ gas stove turned into a flame thrower and the couple safely rushed four children out of the home. The day care kids are their extended family and reopening the center represents a promise of stability and an eagerly-anticipated reunion.

Dean and Mona Thornhill inside the renovated day care in their North Andover home. (WBZ-TV)

“I think it will be the one part of the house that will be the same when they come back,” explained Mona. “You need it for the kids.”

While the Thornhills are now living in an apartment miles away, the couple find normalcy is returning to walk the neighborhood. The house has no walls, no power, no heat, but still “at least now we’re moving forward. I mean take a look. Who would ever think that this makes you feel better?” said Dean. “The unluckiest lucky people we know.”

The Thornhills are among hundreds of families and businesses suing Columbia Gas. Settlement negotiations are currently underway.

Lisa Hughes

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