As residents of Old East Village continue to deal with the fallout of a violent explosion Wednesday night, members of the community are stepping up.
Less than 24 hours after the explosion, which damaged as many as 10 residences on Woodman Avenue, several local businesses have organized fundraisers to support those impacted.
Seven people were taken to hospital, including four London firefighters and two city police officers, after the incident.
Officials say they completed significant evacuations, impacting roughly 100 properties in the area. Residents in all but 12 homes in the area, 10 on Woodman and two on Charlotte Street, were allowed to return home Thursday night, officials announced just before 8 p.m.
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Jamie Jack’s family owns Curly Girl Home Decor on Dundas Street, and also lives nearby on Charlotte Road, about 50 metres from the site of the explosion.
“We never expected to be waiting so long and it was starting to get cold so we just told everyone to come into the business and stay warm.”
Jack says about 15 people stopped in for shelter at some point through the night, with many staying until the morning.
She says having everyone together really helps during tough situations like this.
“I’ve never had to make an insurance claim, or had anything like this happen, so it’s nice to be able to talk to other people,” said Jack.
“Some people were worried, wondering if someone died or was seriously hurt. Just talking to different people about what happened sort of put your mind at ease.”
Jack has lived in Old East Village for more than three years and has always been proud of the “strong community feel” that OEV offers.
She says seeing how the community came together Wednesday night strengthens those beliefs.
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“It is a really nice community. People are always looking out for each other. We have some older residents, and there’s a woman who has a young child who lives nearby — everyone is just really friendly.”
Several nearby residents were still on the scene Thursday morning, many bundled with blankets and jackets.
That sparked a nice gesture from a London firefighter, who comforted a three-year-old boy and his mother. The boy was given a colouring book and plush toy.
The boy’s mother said it was the first time he had smiled since Wednesday night.
Deputy Mayor Jesse Helmer, who represents Ward 4 and lives in the area, says from first responders to community members, everyone is stepping up during a time of need.
“I think once everyone got over the shock of the explosion, their next thought was how do we help people, what can we do to assist,” said Helmer.
“There’s people there supporting first responders, who’ve been dealing with all the smoke. People are bringing them water.”
Several local businesses have offered their support.
London-based Libro Credit Union has created a relief fund for families impacted. Libro has donated an initial $10,000 to the fund and is inviting the public to make donations at any Libro branch throughout the city.
Nearby Anderson Craft Ales says it will be accepting household items, clothing and food donations for families affected by the explosion.
Late Thursday afternoon, officials with Gateway Casinos confirmed to 980 CFPL that, through its GatewayGIVES initiative, it would be donating $5,000 to the Old East Village Woodman Families Trust established by Libro.
“It’s amazing to see all these local businesses stepping up,” Helmer said. “We’re talking about a lot of people who are displaced from this explosion and fire, and people are going to need help to get back on their feet.”
Details are still being finalized, but musicians The Rizdales and venue The Aeolian announced that they would be teaming up to organize the OEV Benefit Concert scheduled for August 20.
London police announced Thursday morning that a 23-year-old Kitchener woman is facing several impaired driving-related charges, including four counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to support some of the victims.
Old East Village-based Illbury & Goose is selling shirts, will all proceeds to be donated to families impacted by the explosion.
In response to the explosion, the city of London’s emergency operations centre has activated its public information telephone line for general inquiries at 519-661-2489.
Impacted residents requiring accommodations or assistance can call the line or go to Boyle Community Centre at 530 Charlotte Ave.