'It looked like Armageddon:' Deadly gas blasts destroy homes north of Boston

Erika Holt
September 15, 2018

Authorities said Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, died Thursday after a chimney toppled by an exploding house crashed into his auto.

Lawrence General Hospital said on its Facebook page it treated 13 people for injuries ranging from smoke inhalation to blast trauma.

Massachusetts State Police said they have responded to 39 fires in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover - and authorities expected that number to rise.

Authorities in MA say a natural gas issue is to blame for at least 39 fires that erupted in homes across communities north of Boston.

Fire investigators suspected "over-pressurization of a gas main" belonging to Columbia Gas of MA led to the series of explosions and fires, Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield said at a news conference.

Before evacuating from North Andover, Jeremy Melvin described a chaotic scene near the plumbing shop where he works.

Firefighters battle a large structure fire in Lawrence, a suburb of Boston. Minutes later, Nam said he heard a loud boom from his neighbour's house and the ground shook.

Andover officials say in a statement that all 35 fires in the town have been extinguished. The cities are north of Boston. Photos posted on social media show raging fires and thick plumes of black smoke billowing from the buildings.

At the peak of the situation, they say 18 fires were burning at the same time in Andover.

Columbia had announced earlier Thursday that it would be upgrading gas lines in neighbourhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions happened.

Public schools in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover will be closed on Friday because of the fires.

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Massachusetts State Police are urging anyone whose homes are serviced by Columbia Gas in the area to evacuate, snarling traffic and causing widespread confusion as residents and local officials struggle to understand what was happening.

"Gas lines are now being depressurized", police tweeted, adding that "it will take some time".

A statement from Indiana-based NiSource said its "thoughts are with everyone affected by today's incident" and that it appreciates the response from local emergency crews. "We are coordinating with our law enforcement partners as expected and personnel are on scene, as we normally would be in a situation like this to assess the situation", the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement.

Officials were shutting down power in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover because of the emergency, state police said on Thursday evening.

A person is dead and dozens of homes have been set ablaze in a gas explosion fire in the U.S. state of MA. Passengers on three were being moved by bus.

Entire neighborhoods were being evacuated in Lawrence. 28 and Salem Street were allowed to return home early Friday • Power shut off to South Lawrence, parts of Andover and North Andover.

In one neighbourhood of the affected area, police, firefighters and utility crews were going door-to-door, checking to make sure it was safe for residents to return home.

Residence halls and academic buildings at Merrimack College were evacuated, according to Jim Chiavelli, chief of staff for the college president. Anyone in those towns who has gas service from Columbia Gas should leave their homes until further notice.

Chief Michael Mansfield requested through the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, two additional fire task forces to respond to Andover.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to help investigate the blasts in a state where some of the aging gas pipeline system dates to the 1860s.

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