Maine Explosion Still Rattling Lives 13 Months Later

July 21--YARMOUTH -- For a few long moments, Rosemary MacKay felt suspended above her kitchen after a propane leak in the condominium next door triggered a powerful explosion that lifted her off her feet.

As she watched her blown-off granite countertops slide beneath her, "I was up there thinking, 'This is serious,' " said the 74-year-old, who then crashed to the floor atop a pile of debris.

The explosion killed a man, leveled four condominiums and heavily damaged other nearby buildings. Residents were told the blast occurred in the washer and dryer area of the basement at 50 Gables Drive, killing Peter Corey, 66, the severely disabled sole inhabitant of the condo. Investigators never determined what caused the propane leak.

More than a year later, the peace and quiet that once characterized Gables Drive have yet to return. The well-manicured neighborhood of upscale duplexes is filled with the whine of power saws and the thump of nail guns as workers reconstruct the damaged homes.

The residents displaced by the explosion, many of them retirees, are still rebuilding their lives after months of living in hotels, borrowed homes and apartments.

"I basically lost a year of life, which at this stage of life is precious," said Ken Anderson, 71, whose home at 32 Balsam Lane behind Gables Drive also was destroyed in the blast.

Although the anniversary date came and went with little ceremony, those who lived through the event said they will always remember 6:17 a.m. on June 25, 2013, as the moment they learned not to care about the material things in their lives.

"We really had an incredible escape," MacKay said.

Her husband, Bruce, had retrieved the newspaper from the driveway, admired his wife's flower garden and turned back toward the house when he was thrown to the ground as two-by-fours and other building debris flew past him. He was covered with scrapes and lost half his hearing.

"My thought was for my husband," said Rosemary MacKay. "I heard his voice, 'Rosemary, are you OK?' I shouted to him and made my way to the front. He was right outside there. Was I ever happy to see him!"

Since the blast, many of those displaced have scrambled to find housing. Some have moved to assisted-living apartments and nursing homes and may not be back.

Others say they are suffering from post-traumatic stress. They jump at the sound of loud noises. They get suddenly angry. They have bad dreams. They wonder whether the disaster could have been avoided if a severely disabled man was not living alone.

All 14 of the units in the complex were damaged in some way. All 28 garage doors had to be replaced. Repairs to 10 homes have been completed, but rebuilding the four condos is taking more time than expected.

Since the blast, the MacKays lived in eight places before renting an empty unit on Gables Drive in October.

They had managed to salvage a marble-top table and mirror that belonged to Bruce MacKay's mother, and a corner of their wedding photograph. But all traces of their king-size cherry sleigh bed vanished. They lost almost everything they owned. Their automobile was totaled, a chain saw embedded in the middle of a seat.

Today, their home office has been overtaken by paperwork related to the explosion.

Amory and Joan Houghton, who lived at 34 Gables Drive, have moved five times since the blast. They stayed at the home of a family who moved to France for a few months, and then the home of some people who went south for the winter.

Most recently they have lived in a rental unit on Bridge Street, hoping their rebuilt home will be completed before the rent money from the insurance company runs out.

Amory Houghton, who is on the board of the Gables North Condominium Association, said dealing with reconstruction as a condominium association is complicated. The construction company, Chase Custom Homes, was held up by very cold weather last winter. Houghton said the company is doing a quality job, but it is hard not to feel anxious as reconstruction drags on.

Efforts to reach the company for comment over the weekend were unsuccessful.

Houghton, 84, said those affected by the disaster have had to deal with a lot of hurt and anger. "The emotions just pop up and make you mad at the world for a moment or two," he said.

Joan Houghton, 70, said life may never return to normal.

"We were like zombies for weeks," she said. "We are all having post-traumatic stress dreams at night. We have anguish and wonder how we will feel when we go back to those homes."

Anderson and his wife, Anita, who live behind 50 Gables Drive through the woods and across Balsam Lane, are still putting their home back together. Their 40-year-old Colonial-style house had to be razed.

They donated it to the Yarmouth Fire Department, which burned it to the ground as part of an elaborate training session that included accelerant-sniffing dogs and the retrieval of a fallen firefighter dummy, all documented in photographs by the Andersons. They moved into their new home at the end of 2013.

A piece of their old house is still visible in the woods nearby.

And while their new Cape-style home is nice, they really liked their old house, the Andersons said.

"It's trying," Anita Anderson said.

Copyright 2014 - Portland Press Herald, Maine

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