How Marengo explosion has rocked neighborhood
Nearly three weeks after a fiery house explosion rocked his Marengo neighborhood, Ross Hadlock is in a state of uncertainty.
Life for his family has become a strange combination of battling with insurance companies, living out of a hotel and trying to maintain some level of normalcy since the June 11 blast.
About 20 homes, including Hadlock's, were left uninhabitable by the gas explosion on 7th Circle, and dozens more sustained various levels of damage. Community members have come to the aid of the families affected, and city officials say cleanup and fundraising efforts are well underway.
Still, the aftermath has been a waiting game for Hadlock and many of his neighbors. Some are unsure when they'll be relocated to a rental house. Others don't know the extent of the damage or how long it'll be before they can return home.
With a wall knocked almost entirely off its foundation, Hadlock's house won't be livable for months. His family has been staying at a Crystal Lake hotel, where space is limited and "all of life's excesses are stripped away," he said.
But in his eyes, that's nothing compared to the families who are waiting to hear whether they'll ever be able to return to their homes -- or to those who already know they won't.
"Everybody's story is different, and it varies from an inconvenience to completely life-altering," he said. "I'm going to get through this. This is a horrific inconvenience for me, but there are people who have it much worse."
While many residents are stuck in limbo, authorities are still investigating what caused the gas explosion, Marengo Fire Chief Bob Bradbury said. Engineers are testing evidence from the scene, he said, but it could be months before a final determination is made.
Meanwhile, insurance agents and adjusters come and go daily, Dumpsters have been placed outside homes, and the four houses at the epicenter of the blast remain fenced off. Though the street is blocked, passers-by continually move around the barricades to check out the scene, said Kyle Alt, who lives a few doors down.
For Alt, the constant bustle of activity on 7th Circle serves as a constant reminder of the disaster and has made it difficult to fall back into a routine.
"Everybody's just trying to find a sense of normalcy from what's happened, but it feels like we're just tiptoeing around my house at night," he said. "It just feels like something else is going to happen."
Neighbor Jennifer Shacklee said her greatest concern is that some homes have hidden structural problems. Though her house on 8th Avenue didn't appear damaged at first, she later discovered cracks in the concrete board siding.
"All our houses moved. What does that mean?" she said. "I think that's everybody's fear. Every little noise scares them."
The Marengo community is a long way from returning to normal, Mayor John Koziol said, but support from throughout the city and beyond has been essential in moving the process forward.
Hoping to ease some of the burden on residents most affected, Shacklee and her family opened their home as a haven for relief efforts in the days immediately after the blast. They served beverages, snacks and full meals -- most of which were donated -- and encouraged residents to pack bags with food and supplies to take back to their hotels.
"It turned into more of just a friendly camaraderie. It was nice and positive and normal," Shacklee said. "The families are stuck, so everyone would walk down here, and we had masses of people everywhere. It was so heartwarming to see."
Since the blast, restaurants have donated gift cards, organizations have collected donations, and special fundraisers have been set up for the families who lost their homes. HyperStitch, a screen printing store, is selling "Marengo Strong" T-shirts for $12 each, $9 of which would go directly to the families affected.
The M.O.R.E. Center in Marengo has also been one of the largest collectors of clothing, supplies and monetary donations since the blast. The organization recently created a committee to help dole out the donations based on need, Hadlock said.
A Facebook page has been set up to keep track of all relief efforts, and community members have started organizing a benefit event for July 22.
"Marengo is a small town, but it's a small town with great people who know how to help one another and get things done for one another," Alt said. "Everybody has just pulled through, and it's been great to see."