‘You must be angry’: O’Fallon’s neighbors demand changes after house explodes

Neighbors held a forum at City Hall on Friday where the voices of many of those affected by the blast resounded. They say there is strength in numbers.

O’Fallon, Missouri – The people living in O’Fallon, Missouri, are uniting and calling for changes in the wake of this year’s gas explosion that destroyed one home and damaged several others.

They held a symposium in the city council on Friday, where the voices of many of those affected by the blast sounded. They say there is strength in numbers and if the community can come together, they believe they can bring about change statewide.

It was in March when a third party contractor was drilling in one of O’Fallon’s sections and collided with the Spire gas line, causing a huge explosion.

Michelle van Mitter was at work when her husband called.

“His words to me were ‘a bomb went off and there are three houses on fire,'” she said.

They had to stay in a hotel for a month. Since their home is under repair, they are now staying in a temporary shelter. But they sort a lot.

“When you have to deal with insurance companies, these are things you don’t think about. For example — your mattress you bought years ago, do you still have the receipt? Because I don’t, and then they offer you pennies on the dollar as it is,” she explained.

Furthermore, her young son was terrified.

“Crisis counselors call me from the school and say he’s constantly worried that the house is going to explode and that his dad is going home,” Van Mitter said.

What doesn’t make things easier is a letter her family received from the city, written the day after the explosion. It stated that their home was “ordered to make their home safe and healthy by way of repairs within 30 days of the date of this letter.”

“If you’re from O’Fallon, you must be pissed off,” said Ken Stout.

Live along the way. At first he said he was told that his house was safe. Something told him to hire his own freelance engineer.
That’s what that engineer said.

“The structure of your house is not sound,” Stout said. “He says, ‘I can’t fix those cracks.’” These cracks are too big.”

Neighbors met on Friday night. They are now organizing to reach out to lawmakers.

“We should say ‘You’re in this seat,'” Attorney Scott Bocom told the audience. You have a responsibility to the people in this society who are unable to protect themselves at the moment. This is your job.”

They want laws that tighten requirements for workers doing excavation, automatic structural damage assessments independent of the city inspector or insurance companies, and immediate compensation for property damage or injury when something like this happens.

“I think if we set the standards here, all the counties are around us, and I hope all the states around us will follow suit and protect us all,” said Nick Schroer, the state representative.

“Some neighbors somewhere will be the next news,” Bocum added.

Some affected say they feel they have PTSD and are in constant fear of catastrophe. Now, there is a ban on drilling in that area. The Missouri Public Service Commission and OSHA said they are investigating the matter.

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