Panicked neighborhoods evacuate as gas blasts destroy homes in Massachusetts

Sergio Conner
September 14, 2018

Mass evacuations from United States towns north of Boston were underway Thursday after dozens of fires and suspected gas explosions erupted, police said, leaving at least 10 residents injured, one critically.

The Essex District Attorney says 18-year-old Leonel Rondon was inside a vehicle in the driveway of the home when a chimney fell on it. Rondon was pronounced dead at Mass General Hospital.

Lawrence, Andover and North Andover were included Thursday morning in an alert from Columbia Gas of MA telling customers on its website that it was "upgrading natural gas lines in neighborhoods" across the state.

There will be no school today in Andover, Lawrence or North Andover.

Fire departments from across southern New Hampshire sent crews over the border to Massachusetts Thursday after dozens of fires and gas explosions were reported in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover.

At least six people have been admitted to a hospital in Lawrence with fire-related injuries, including two in critical condition, according to reports.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency blamed over-pressurized gas lines for starting the fires, but officials on the scene are still investigating.

At least one person was killed in the explosions and several injured.

State police urged residents served by the Columbia Gas company, a unit of NiSource Inc, to evacuate their homes, saying the utility was cutting pressure to its lines and that it would take "some time" to shut off all service.

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera said residents won't be allowed to return home until crews inspect every home and make sure there are no more gas leaks.

"Good thing I wasn't home or I wouldn't be talking about it", she said outside an elementary school in Lawrence that the Red Cross had converted into a shelter for about 170 people.

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Authorities are scrambling to shut down gas supply to stop further explosions.

State police said they have responded to 70 fires, explosions and reports of gas odors connected with the issue. "What we need folks to do is that if it's happening in your home, you have a amusing smell, just evacuate, come out to the street".

Firefighters put out 35 fires in Andover, town officials said.

"It's definitely a scary situation at the moment", he said.

"It looked like Armageddon, it really did", said Michael Mansfield, Andover fire chief.

Neighbouring Police Chief Joseph Solomon, who came in to assist from the town of Methuen, said there were so many fires burning at one point that you couldn't see the sky.

"People need to get out of this area safely", he said at the time.

The three communities house more than 146,000 residents and are located about 42 kilometres north of Boston.

Warren and Seaman said the last time they responded to MA for a major blaze was the Malden Mills factory fire in Lawrence in 1995.

Customers who smell the odor of gas are asked to leave the area immediately, move to a safe location and call 911.

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