One year after the Merrimack Valley gas explosions, the city of Lawrence is still dealing with numerous challenges.
But Mayor Daniel Rivera is hopeful — looking forward to next spring, when "what you'll see here is basically a brand new field with the close to $80 million we got in the settlement with Columbia Gas."
The field housed around 200 mobile homes after the gas explosions, which killed teenager Leonel Rondon, set more than 100 homes on fire and displaced some 8,000 people total in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover. But soon the field will once again be ready for the community to use.
"We fixed this field and the basketball and tennis court at Sullivan Field. This is going to be a brand-new park and this place is going to be beautiful," Rivera said.
City officials on Friday unveiled a square named for the teenager killed in the explosions on Sept. 13, 2018.
It's all part of a new chapter for residents of Lawrence, complete with new sidewalks and the re-paving of several streets. When the baseball field is completed, the city will hold a major celebration that Rivera hopes can help close the painful chapter in the city's history.
"If we had not spoke with one voice, and fought with one voice and come together as a community it would have been very easy for Columbia Gas and all the people to put us up against each other," Rivera said. "If we hadn't done that then the disaster would have been 10 times worse, if we had an individual mentality about the recovery."
Ismael Rivera's family was able to move back into their Lawrence home on Friday, the one-year anniversary itself.
Still, dozens of people remain displaced, and may never be able to go back to their homes. The road to recovery for the city remains long, and Rivera said his administration is trying to do more to make sure the scars heal, but says much work remains.
"I want people to know that they are not by themselves and that a year later no one's forgotten them, and a year later we are still here and when Columbia Gas is gone and everyone else is gone, five years from now we'll all be here," he said.