Chatham-Kent seeks provincial help after suspected gas blast in Wheatley

·2 min read

The mayor of a rural region in southwestern Ontario called for the province's help Friday after a suspected gas leak caused an explosion that levelled a building and left 20 people requiring medical attention.

Darrin Canniff, the mayor of Chatham-Kent, said a recurring hydrogen sulphide leak is believed to be behind the blast that took place Thursday evening in the community of Wheatley.

An evacuation of the area due to a suspected leak was underway for the third time since June when the blast occurred, he said.

"We cannot allow this situation to continue," he said in a statement. "We are continuing our calls for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to take control of the situation and use its authority and expertise to find the source of the leak and correct the issue."

The municipality said it had requested a meeting with the province "to demand a formal plan of action."

Ontario's solicitor general said earlier Friday that the province has launched an investigation.

"The Ontario government will continue to work closely with the municipality of Chatham-Kent to support the municipality as it works through this difficult situation," Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said in a statement.

Local officials said they were called to the scene in Wheatley at approximately 4:30 p.m. Thursday when gas monitoring devices at the site set off an alarm.

First responders had evacuated the buildings at the site and were in the process of evacuating a wider area when the explosion occurred.

By Friday afternoon, local officials said 20 people had received medical attention as a result of the blast and one Chatham-Kent employee remained in hospital. One building was levelled and several others were badly damaged, the municipality said.

Chatham-Kent Fire Chief Chris Case said a two-block area around the blast site will continue to be cordoned off until further notice.

"There is gas being detected. It is too dangerous to enter the area," he said. "The risk of another explosion is very real."

The explosion was close to a location where hydrogen sulphide gas was first discovered in June, prompting an evacuation order and the declaration of a state of emergency.

In July, the municipality declared a second state of emergency after confirming hydrogen sulfide was once again present in the building that was levelled in Thursday's blast. That state of emergency remained in effect.

A reception centre was established at the Wheatley Arena for those who evacuated from the affected area.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 27, 2021.

Rhythm Sachdeva, The Canadian Press

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