Massachusetts Town Rebuilds, One Year after Powerful Blast

Tile on the kitchen floor is still missing and cans of paint sit on the living room console, but they're the only signs in Ann Marie Ruotolo's Danvers home of the blast that rocked her house off its foundation and blasted out the windows and doors.

A year after vapors from a chemical mixture at a paint and ink manufacturing plant caused a blast that devastated nearly 300 homes and businesses, Ruotolo, like other residents in this town of 26,000 people, are still rebuilding their homes - and their lives.

"I consider myself lucky," said Ruotolo, who'll have Thanksgiving dinner out with friends tomorrow, rather than at the Beverly church that served dinner last year to those left homeless. "I didn't have to rebuild."

Across Bates Street, Laura and Tim Barry did. The blast destroyed everything but the frame of their house, the cellar and the foundation, forcing them to spend the next nine months living out of hotels and with relatives until their house was rebuilt.

"We were just glad to be alive," said Laura Barry, 40, who was feeding her infant son when the blast blew in their windows, showering them in shards of glass. "Having everybody safe and back together - we have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving."

Neither CAI nor Arnel, the two companies the manufacturing plant housed, could be reached yesterday for comment. But both companies have relinquished their license to store flammable materials, Town Manager Wayne Marquis said.

At the New England Home for the Deaf, where nearly 100 residents were displaced by more than $1 million in damage, life has returned to some semblance of normalcy after a traumatic year of change.

The residents, some of whom are both deaf and blind, were taken in by three nursing homes and one retirement community, where they had to learn their way around a new environment, says Dr. Barry Zeltzer, the home's director.

For them and for residents displaced by the blast, the trauma of the past year and the ongoing battles with insurance companies and contractors has been softened by the community's outpouring of concern.

The disaster-relief fund has received more than $500,000 in donations, Marquis said. And every Thursday night, volunteers at the Maple Street Congregational Church still serve food donated by local restaurants to those who were displaced.

Republished with permission from The Boston Herald

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