May 3, 2015
By Cristina Rojas
“I know the last group is very optimistic because we’re almost done,” Lorraine deSouza, president of the South Fork homeowners association board, said at a recent meeting. “We see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
The March 4, 2014, blast killed 62-year-old Linda Cerritelli, injured seven utility workers and destroyed or damaged to some degree all 130 homes in the South Fork development.
The first set of displaced homeowners began moving back in September. Of the 17 remaining homes, six should be done by the end of May. The other 11 houses are total rebuilds and will take about another seven months to complete. The house where deSouza lived on Pioneer Court is part of the rebuild group.
Al Pellegrino, of P&A Management, which manages the condos, said work was delayed on two units under repair because they were waiting on Public Service Electric & Gas to install two gas lines and foundation work had to be done on the rebuilds before the framing could begin.
“I’m really pleased with the progress that they’ve made,” Pellegrino said. “There was a little bit of a slow start, but things have been moving along and as far as I’m concerned, they’re on schedule.”
Frank Higgins, the board’s treasurer, said that it seems like a long time, but several months went by before construction could even begin. The site was initially declared a crime scene and floor plans had to be redrawn for the rebuilds.
“These things take time, particularly when they’re unplanned events,” he said.
In mid-July, GC3, an Iowa-based disaster restoration company, was hired after two false starts with other contractors.
Board members regularly meet with GC3 to hear updates on the progress and resolve any issues.
“They’ve been good at communicating timelines with us and keeping us posted as to what’s going on,” deSouza said.
Higgins said that navigating the insurance process has been difficult. The homeowners association’s insurance covers original construction, but individual owners take out policies on belongings and any improvements they might have made.
In the beginning, communication with residents was another challenge the board had to tackle. Residents wanted to know how soon they could return home, but Higgins said the board couldn’t always give them accurate dates or it was premature to share certain information with them.
“Well what the homeowners saw was ‘Our houses are not getting built. Why are our houses not getting built?'” deSouza said.
But now, the explosion is starting to become a more distant memory as things return back to normal.
“The normal complaints are coming out about ‘When are you going to do this?’ and ‘When are you going to do that?'” deSouza said. “They’re back in their houses so they’re starting to live a normal life.”