Columbia Gas is offering 20,000 Thanksgiving meals to those affected by the Merrimack Valley gas explosions, but some residents who haven’t yet been able to return to their homes are disappointed by what they say is a “too little, too late” gesture.
Residents of Andover, North Andover and Lawrence have until Friday, Nov. 16 to reserve a Thanksgiving meal either to pick up or to eat at a local community center.
Dean Thornhill, 63, doesn’t plan on taking the utility company up on either offer. Thornhill’s North Andover home was one of the houses that caught fire in the Merrimack Valley gas explosions. His family is going to be displaced for about a year, he said.
“So a Thanksgiving meal in a high school gymnasium or auditorium just doesn’t do a thing for us,” he said. “To say, ‘Come by North Andover High for a piece of turkey,’ it’s more an insult to me, and I think a lot of people view it that way. I wouldn’t be surprised if not a lot of people were there.”
Columbia Gas said Sunday that 3,700 Thanksgiving meals have already been reserved. The company is offering 20,000 dinners.
Online, Columbia Gas says it’s not offering gift cards or something other than food because, “We, along with local community leaders, decided that providing a nice meal for pick up or to eat with the community is in the best community spirit.”
Thornhill made a Facebook post publicly declining the Columbia Gas Thanksgiving dinner offer, to which some neighbors commented that they also thought the invitation was “ridiculous.” To them, it’s just a publicity stunt.
“Nobody has reached out to us. They know who we are, they know our house, they know they set the fire. They’re more worried about covering their tale than doing right thing,” Thornhill said. “If they’d just admitted what they did and offered relief right away, I think they would've been a lot better off.”
Columbia Gas extends timeline for Merrimack Valley gas explosions recovery
The Merrimack Valley gas explosions rocked the three Massachusetts communities on Sept. 13, 2018, affecting more than 8,000 gas customers, causing dozens of injuries and resulting in the death of a 19-year-old who was killed when a chimney fell on his vehicle.
Gas service has been restored to 65 percent of businesses and 47 percent of residential customers in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence, officials said on Monday. Initially, Columbia Gas set a deadline of Nov. 19 for full restoration after the explosions; now, the company says it’s "House Ready” plan is expected to be completed between Dec. 2 and Dec. 16.
Until then, many homes still don’t have gas as temperatures drop to the 20s overnight and as the holidays approach.
Nora Torres, 55, of Lawrence, takes a moment to herself before talking to a claims representative at Lawrence High School in Lawrence, MA during an open house for those affected by the September Merrimack Valley fires and gas explosions on Nov. 10, 2018. Photo: Getty Images
For Thornhill, whose home suffered extensive damage, that timeline won’t really help him anyway. His insurance company arranged for his family to relocate to an apartment in the meantime, which he says is “a nice place to be if you’re homeless, but it’s not home.”
“This is the first time in 42 years that I haven't been in my house for Thanksgiving,” he said. “That’s where I want to be.”
Residents interested in reserving a Columbia Gas Thanksgiving meal can visit columbiagas.com/massachusetts/resources/thanksgiving.