'Where will we be next?': Recovery slow a year after deadly Yarmouth explosion

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

YARMOUTH — From rental homes and staying with relatives, to apartments and extended stays at hotels, Rosemary and Robert MacKay have moved eight times in the last year.

That was when their Gables Drive home was destroyed in a deadly explosion, and there’s still no end to their saga in sight.

Rosemary MacKay was in her kitchen on June 25, 2013, when the adjoining condominium exploded at 6:17 a.m.

The then-74-year-old was propelled off the floor and into the ceiling before crashing back onto the rubble below, but she was able to get up and walk away with only deep bruises. Her husband, who was in the front walkway at the time, lost half his hearing, but was otherwise unharmed.

The same couldn’t be said for their home.

“Half of our house disappeared and the other half was destroyed,” Rosemary said.

Their home, part of the Gables North Condominium Association, was attached to 50 Gables Drive, where the propane explosion occurred. It killed the home’s only resident, 66-year-old Peter Corey.

For the first three or four months after the explosion, the MacKays said, they couldn’t eat or sleep, and have only recently started to get their appetites back. They also said they would often wake up in the middle of the night full of anxiety.

“There was always the worry of ‘where will we be next?'” Rosemary said.

For the past year the MacKays have been living out of bags and boxes, although they don’t have many belongings. They estimate that they lost 95 percent of what they owned, including most of their furniture and their car. 

“Suddenly all our history was gone,” Robert said.

For insurance purposes, the couple had to list every item they lost, down to each utensil and knick knack. Rosemary said she listed more than 3,000 items. They made sure to save everything that was in good condition, and they also had some items refurbished. 

“All of a sudden it became very important to have something of our own,” Rosemary said.

Amory Houghton, 84, of 32 Gables Drive, understands what the McKays have gone through. He and his wife Joan lost many belongings, including their car, family china from the 1800s, photographs, and souvenirs from their travels, among other things.

“You don’t have your own bed. You don’t have your own pots and pans,” Houghton said. “You get used to having your own stuff.”

The Houghtons are in their fifth temporary residence since the explosion.

“It’s pretty expensive to live in an apartment, plus you have the emotional toll,” he said.

Houghton said that although he and his wife suffered no physical injuries, they were “emotionally out of it for some time.” He said they try to stay positive despite the past year’s events.

“The part that’s very difficult is to say that we’ve suffered when we’ve got a roof over our heads, food on the table, and we’re getting a brand new home,” Houghton said.

As for when new homes will be ready for their owners to move back, there’s no expected date as of yet. The condo association has hired Chase Construction to rebuild the destroyed condominiums, which from the outside look complete, but still have a long way to go inside.

“We want it done, but we don’t want it done so fast that more mistakes occur,” Houghton said.

Although Houghton said the exteriors look like residents “have been here without any problem,” the interiors are just frames and concrete flooring. Houghton said the contractor “has bent over backwards” for the condo association and that he plans to “build these back to one second prior to the explosion.”

As they wait for the construction to be completed, displaced residents aren’t sure how many more temporary places they’ll need. The MacKays said their home may not be ready until December, although they don’t know for sure.

Anita and Ken Anderson, of 32 Balsam Drive, one street away from Gables Drive, donated their house to the Yarmouth Fire Department for training after it was damaged by the explosion. It was burned down last September, 2 1/2 months after the explosion; construction began on a new house the next day. The Anderson’s moved into their new home in January.

Because they are not part of the Gables Drive condo association, the Andersons worked with a private contractor. Those on Gables Drive, however, have to go through the association, instead of working with the contractor directly. Some said this may be a reason behind the slow progress on the interiors.

Property taxes are another issue.

The displaced homeowners have had to pay, even though their homes no longer exist. State Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, submitted a bill in the last legislative session that would have allowed tax abatements for destroyed property, but it did not pass.

Cooper said the tax liability makes the situation worse for those affected by the explosion.

“The whole thing has taken very long and has been an additional hardship for these people,” Cooper said.

Cooper said she will try to pass the bill again if she is re-elected. Houghton said he has been upset because he’s been making full payments each month on his destroyed home.

Houghton and the MacKays said they remain hopeful about returning to their homes soon and moving past the year-old tragedy.

“We’ll all get together and hopefully put this behind us within the next three to four months,” Houghton said, “but we’ve got a lot of work ahead.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Sidebar Elements

After: Robert and Rosemary MacKay stand outside their home a year after a propane explosion killed a neighbor and destroyed four Yarmouth condominiums in June 2013. Today, the structures at 50 and 52 Gables Drive have been rebuilt, but the interior spaces are little more than wall studs and sub-flooring.

Before: The original condominium at 52 Gables Drive in Yarmouth was still standing before it was razed and rebuilt. Its neighboring building to the left, 50 Gables Drive, was obliterated in a June 25, 2013, propane explosion that killed 66-year-old Peter Corey.

Rosemary and Robert MacKay inside 52 Gables Drive a year after a propane explosion in their neighbor’s home destroyed four condominiums, including their own. Today, the condominiums’ exteriors have been rebuilt, but the interior spaces are little more than wall studs and sub-flooring.

Before: One year ago, debris from 50 Gables Drive was strewn behind a row of condominiums.

After: A year after the Gables Drive explosion  in Yarmouth, the three condominiums on the left have been largely rebuilt.

Before: Yarmouth firefighters watch as the house at 32 Balsam Lane burns Sept. 8, 2013. The fire was deliberately set by the Fire Department as part of a training session at the house, which had been damaged beyond repair by an explosion at nearby 50 Gables Drive.

After: Ken and Anita Anderson stand outside their rebuilt home at 32 Balsam Lane, Yarmouth. The site was excavated on Sept. 9, 2013, and the house was in move-in condition in January. As of Monday, the project is “99.9 percent complete,” Ken said.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.