As temps drop, Merrimack Valley residents take matters into their own hands

The thousands of residents left without gas following the Merrimack Valley explosions are now starting to feel the looming threat of the cold weather as temperatures drop.

Many who say they are tired of not getting answers from Columbia Gas are now taking matters into their own hands.

Most residents we spoke to said if they get in touch with someone with Columbia Gas, they're often told to contact someone else.

"It’s very stressful," said Rita Torrisi. "Sometimes I end up crying, my kids think I’m crazy."

Rita, 90, and her husband Peter, who's 88-years-old, both have medical conditions. They haven't had heat since the explosions happened more than a month ago.

"We had to leave the house immediately, we came back to something that has no heat," said Rita.

After evacuating their North Andover home last month, the Torrisis are now back home and have been staying warm all day by sitting next to the fireplace as they wait for gas to be restored.

While their electric has been turned back on, a crew sent by Columbia Gas a few weeks ago hasn't returned.

"They said we couldn’t use a space heater and we wouldn’t get one because our panel wasn’t high enough, but they would be back with an electrician," said Rita. "That was Sept 27, never heard another word from them."

The Torrisis' daughters said they've called Columbia Gas for weeks and gone through four claim representatives before finally getting ahold of an electrician of their own to come by Tuesday to update their electric panel. Their bill will be covered by the company.

Also in North Andover, Karin Rhoton, her husband and three boys are getting creative.

"This is just a 5-gallon bucket, and I have this electric water heater and you put that in there," said Rhoton. "This thing drops in the bottom, you press the button and that’s how you shower."

Rhoton has also been cooking with camping equipment and says she's been on the phone and at the claim center, struggling to get reimbursed for some hefty bills.

"We started going through the whole process of having a pellet stove approved so that we can get it installed, and I got the quote, I fronted the money, I’m in about 8,000 dollars right now for all of this," said Rhoton. "I haven’t seen any of that for any of the deposits I’ve put down."

According to the timeline established by gas officials, it'll be at least three weeks before both families have their gas turned back on.

Other residents say they've moved into hotels but the rooms they're given are thirty minutes away from home.

A spokesperson for Columbia Gas told Boston 25 News in a statement:

"Columbia is providing alternate housing to any affected customer who requests it, and is trying to house customers as close to their homes and workplaces as possible. More than 50 crews are devoted to fast tracking vulnerable customers to help them get gas service restored. The company is focused on getting gas restored so customers can be warm in their own homes as soon as possible."

One resident we spoke to did have their restoration date moved up sooner.