Marengo grapples with cleanup after massive house explosion

MARENGO – Debbie Hamilton is in limbo, along with many other families displaced by the home explosion that rocked a Marengo neighborhood early Sunday.

A house exploded about 5 a.m. on Seventh Circle in Marengo, leveling the neighboring house and igniting others on fire. Two people were sent to the hospital, more than 50 homes were damaged and 18 houses have been deemed uninhabitable, fire officials said Monday. A cause hasn't been determined, and the investigation could take months to complete.

Fire department tape cordoned off the neighborhood Monday. Affected homeowners, insurance investigators and fire and law enforcement officials milled about the neighborhood in the sweltering heat. Hamilton sat on the front porch of her boarded up home of more than 20 years as a team of insurance agents went in and out.

"They are going to have [more] inspectors come out and check the structure tomorrow," she said. "If the structure is bad, it will have to come down and they will rebuild. … It depends on what they decided, whether it's fixable or not."

Neighbors stopped by to hand out bottled water. Others gathered in the shade with coolers and lawn chairs, waiting to find out what would happen next.

Insurance companies won't be able to issue a final decision until the city of Marengo releases its own investigation results, Hamilton said.

Resident Kevin Simons is staying with a friend until he can figure out his financial situation. The house he was renting with his wife and children is uninhabitable and he said his landlord won't return his $1,100 security deposit until 45 days after his lease was set to expire July 10.

"I have been living here for two years, paying my rent on time," he said. "This landlord won't give the deposit back when the house is uninhabitable? It's unbelievable."

For those affected who do not have homeowners' insurance and those who were renting their home, the McHenry County Housing Authority can offer a night in a motel and a bed for each person living in the home, said Sue Rose, the authority's community service director. Affected people who were renting their home also are offered first month's rent and coverage of their security deposit, Rose said. The McHenry County Housing Authority can be reached at 815-338-7752.

A preliminary investigation hasn't shown the cause of the explosion, and a damage estimate has not yet been made said Marengo Fire Chief Bob Bradbury, on the scene Monday morning.

"We will be back in the next week for an investigation," he said. "The thing about an investigation like this is it involves a lot of companies and a lot of people. We have to send letters to everybody to first of all let them know there will be an investigation and when it will be, so they are prepared."

He said that the next time all involved agencies would go through and investigate the cause would likely be next Tuesday and a final report could take a month to several months to generate.

The neighborhood is littered with drywall, chunks of wood, glass and other debris. The 18 uninhabitable homes are hazards – but its incumbent on the insurance agencies to clean up the sites, Bradbury said.

"The city's responsibility was the streets and they got that cleaned up yesterday," he said. "Now it's in the insurance company's hands. It will be like this for probably quite a while. … Each individual insurance company is going to be responsible for clean up and repair."

He added that Marengo officials are discouraging people from coming to the area.

"We have the streets blocked off," he said. "The homeowners can be down here obviously because they want to check their buildings out, but people shouldn't be coming down here."

A special town hall meeting was held Monday evening for affected residents at Marengo High School, 110 Franks Road. The meeting wasn't open to the public.

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