Displaced Sun Prairie resident reflects one year after leaving behind her home

SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. (WMTV) -- One year after she had to leave her home on the corner of Columbus Street and Main Street in Sun Prairie, Maria Hernandez reflects on how the community supported her and so many others impacted by the explosion.

Just a block away from the explosion site, Maria Hernandez was alerted that something was wrong on July 10, 2018, via phone call.

"A friend called and said, do you smell gas?" she said.

Shortly after, police were at her door, telling her the building was being evacuated. She took her then two-year-old son and left, unaware that she wouldn't be able to live in her home again.

"We couldn't go back in, it was unlivable, so we had to move," she said.

From there, her family lived with relatives, then in a motel.

"I guess I was surprised," she said. "I didn't think something like that could happen to anybody, or us."

Hernandez was able to find a new apartment, and moved in with the help of Sunshine Place.

"We got help from the community with everything, to help us get this home and everything else." Hernandez said Sunshine Place and the fund helped her family pay their security deposit on their new place, as well as initial rent. She said Sunshine Place also helped with things like clothing and bedding during the move.

Sunshine Place, a community resource center in Sun Prairie, said they helped 35 displaced families after the explosion, as well as other affected residents.

"We worked with a total of 51 families, and those 51 families were people who were displaced as a result of the explosion, they were employees that were working in the area," said Joanna Cervantes, Executive Director of Sunshine Place.

Cervantes said they helped get the final displaced family find a home as recently as January or February 2019.

"It was the unknown, not knowing when they can go back, can they even go back, do they have their belongings?" Cervantes said. "It wasn't just an apartment for them, that was their home, that was where they built their memories."

Cervantes said an important part of the recovery process was the Sun Prairie Disaster Relief Fund.

"It was able to fill in the gap making sure that families could receive the assistance, their first month's rent, the security deposit, getting food and clothing, beds, and household items, to where it needed to go," she said.

Cervantes said Sunshine Place helped make recommendations to the committee managing the fund on where funds should be designated - funds that went to families and individuals in a time of crisis.

"It's been an emotional time here," Cervantes said. "I often mention how our families are resilient, and they're powerful, and they're strong, and they did get back on their feet."

Families like Maria Hernandez, her son, and husband, who a year later, are in their new home.

"Be happy," Hernandez said. "There's probably better things to come."