UPDATED: Residents return to their homes in Seward - WREX.com – Rockford’s News Leader

UPDATED: Residents return to their homes in Seward

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Map of the evacuated area Map of the evacuated area
SEWARD (WREX) -

"Back to normal" is relative for a family living just across the street from the explosion that caused Seward's evacuation.

Neighbors just across the street from Nova-Kem report hearing a large explosion.  It wasn't shortly after, they noticed the buildings, engulfed in flames.

"Then I saw the employees running out.  One had a HAZMAT suit on and the other was on the phone, making a 911 call."

Tari Woods also called 911.  It didn't take a  mandatory evacuation for her family to move quickly.

"Think of safety first and just get your necessities and just get in your car and go.  Very stressful situation."

Returning home was a mystery as well.  There's no visible damage to the home. There are charred pieces of Nova-Kem in the Woods' yard.

"We will want to do some testing to make sure our roof is okay because we were so close because we do have some of the debris in our yard so we want to make sure to have someone professional come in and make sure that we're safe and then maybe look at the water later on just to make sure everything's safe," said Woods.

Seward and surrounding areas got the green light Monday afternoon.  For the first time in more than 24 hours, they were going home.

"We have evacuated a two mile radius around the facility."

That was Sunday.  Unpredictable chemicals left firefighters with their hands tied, unable to do anything but wait.

Fast forward to Monday, just after three in the afternoon.

"We are officially about the open the city back up to the residents," announced Pec's Fire Chief.

A wave of relief.  no more hotels, no more fast food and most importantly, no more danger.

"Oh, there's not place like home, its a wonderful feeling to come home," said Woods.

"Been stressful but this is good to hear," said Karleen Merchant.

Karleen Merchant has lived in Seward for 50 years.  She's seen the town evacuated before, including in  2007.

"Was a little more scary because the ammonia wasn't going to explode or cause an explosion at my house.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency helped make the call to get people back in town.  Testing on both air and water supplies returned safe results.

"Numerous air samplings in the building and outside the building and everything is within specifications as far as air quality is concerned," said Chief Van Vleck.  "No water damage or any well damage from water because their was no used so there is no pollution problems."

We still don't know the exact cause of the explosion and fire at Nova-Kem.  The Pec Fire District says cleanup on the site will begin soon.

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