Three homes in Melrose, Massachusetts, remain unlivable nearly a month after sewage started spewing from the toilets in June, the health inspector says.
The Board of Alderman in Melrose met with the mayor's office Thursday night to learn about what's next, how the clean-up is coming, when residents will be allowed back in the three unlivable homes, who's footing the bill and what can be done to make sure it doesn't happen again.
"Our lives have been uprooted. We don't have homes," Silvana Ortiz, who lives in one of the homes affected by the incident, said. "I could sit here and complain all day about everything we've been through."
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The homes have been cleaned, but only one has been deemed livable. Residents want to know if tests for toxicity will be conducted, and who's paying for all the damage.
"It's just out of our budget. We don't have clear answers... insurance going to cover this or not?"
Mayor Gail Infurna offered apologies for the overflow.
"This was an unusual event. It had all the elements of a perfect storm," she said.
But the key question over who is covering what remained unclear.
"There are things we could not do is assure the residents that the city would pay for all... that would be irresponsible because we could not guarantee our insurance will pay the claims in full."
After the incident on Brazil Street, the city commissioned a study to review what exactly unfolded. It was determined that the initial clog of the sewer line was caused by a buildup of roots, debris and grease. When the clog was removed by city crews, wastewater started flowing downstream to the bottom of the street at a very fast rate. It forced sewage through sewer connections and up into people's toilets.
Even though the workmen followed typical protocol in clearing the blockage, the report concluded they could have used different equipment to prevent sewage from surging into the four homes had they known what was causing the buildup.
The mayor says cleaners have removed everything that could have absorbed the sewage and sanitized all surfaces in the four Brazil Street homes, but the health inspector says only one of the four homes is safe to live in at this time.
Residents were offered temporary housing after their toilets backed up, leaving a huge mess and destroying their homes.
Brazil Street residents not impacted by the sewage surge are still worried it could happen to them if infrastructure issues aren't addressed.
"This isn't a bleach and bucket clean up, it's a serious matter," Brazil Street resident Rick Greski said.
Infurna says the city has spent about $40,000 in clean-up and hotels. But it's up to insurance companies involved to pay the rest, and there's no timeline on that for frustrated residents.