Shaken and ex­hausted

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD -

In­ves­ti­ga­tors worked Fri­day to pin­point the cause of a se­ries of dra­matic nat­u­ral gas ex­plo­sions that killed a teenager who had just got­ten his driver’s li­cen­sce and was sit­ting in his car, in­jured at least 25 oth­ers and left dozens of homes in smoul­der­ing ru­ins.

Au­thor­i­ties said an es­ti­mated 8,000 peo­ple were dis­placed at the height of Thurs­day’s post-ex­plo­sion chaos in three towns north of Bos­ton that were rocked by the dis­as­ter. Most were still wait­ing, shaken and ex­hausted, to be able to re­turn to their homes.

The Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board sent a team to help in­ves­ti­gate, say­ing pipe­lines are within its ju­ris­dic­tion.

The rapid-fire se­ries of gas ex­plo­sions that one of­fi­cial de­scribed as “Ar­maged­don” ig­nited fires in 60 to 80 homes in Lawrence, An­dover and North An­dover, forc­ing en­tire neigh­bour­hoods to evac­u­ate as crews scram­bled to fight the flames and shut off the gas and elec­tric­ity. Gas re­mained shut off Fri­day in most of the area, and the streets were eerily de­serted.

Au­thor­i­ties said Leonel Ron­don, 18, of Lawrence, died af­ter a Vol­un­teers help to un­load a truck of do­na­tions out­side the Parthum School in Lawrence, Mass., Fri­day. Mul­ti­ple houses were dam­aged Thurs­day af­ter­noon from gas ex­plo­sions and fires trig­gered by a prob­lem with a gas line that feeds homes in sev­eral com­mu­ni­ties north of Bos­ton.

chim­ney top­pled by an ex­plod­ing house crashed into his car. He was rushed to a Bos­ton hospi­tal and pro­nounced dead there Thurs­day evening.

Ron­don, a mu­si­cian who went by the name DJ Blaze, had just got­ten his driver’s li­cense, griev­ing friends and rel­a­tives told The Bos­ton Globe. “It’s crazy how this hap­pened,” said a friend, Cas­san­dra Car­rion.

Mas­sachusetts State Po­lice urged all res­i­dents with homes ser­viced by Columbia Gas in the three com­mu­ni­ties to evac­u­ate, snarling traf­fic and caus­ing wide­spread con­fu­sion as res­i­dents and local of­fi­cials strug­gled to un­der­stand what was hap­pen­ing. Some 400 peo­ple spent the night in shel­ters, and school was can­celled Fri­day as fam­i­lies waited to re­turn to their homes.

John Fluegge said he came home Thurs­day to find a note on the door of his apart­ment build­ing say­ing ev­ery­one had to leave. A po­lice of­fi­cer di­rected him to North An­dover’s high school, where he slept on a cot.

Fuegge, 58, called the sit­u­a­tion “con­fus­ing more than fright­en­ing.”

“You don’t know if your house is go­ing to go up or your apart­ment,” he said. “It hap­pened all of a sud­den, no one knew how it started and ev­ery­thing.” His apart­ment was not dam­aged but he has still not been al­lowed to re­turn be­cause there is no power.

Gov. Char­lie Baker said state and local au­thor­i­ties were in­ves­ti­gat­ing but that it could take days or weeks be­fore they turn up an­swers, ac­knowl­edg­ing the “mas­sive inconvenience” for those dis­placed by the ex­plo­sions. He said hun­dreds of gas tech­ni­cians were go­ing house to house to en­sure each was safe.

The three com­mu­ni­ties house more than 146,000 res­i­dents about 26 miles (40 kilo­me­tres) north of Bos­ton, near the New Hamp­shire bor­der. Lawrence, the largest of them, is a ma­jor­ity Latino city with a pop­u­la­tion of about 80,000.

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera re­as­sured im­mi­grants who might not be liv­ing in his city legally that they had noth­ing to fear.

“Do not be afraid. Stay in the light. We will sup­port you and your fam­ily,” Rivera said at a news con­fer­ence Fri­day, speak­ing in English and Span­ish. “Lawrence is one com­mu­nity.”

Au­thor­i­ties said all of the fires had been ex­tin­guished overnight and the sit­u­a­tion was sta­bi­liz­ing.

Hours ear­lier, An­dover Fire Chief Michael Mans­field de­scribed a starkly dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion.

“It looked like Ar­maged­don, it re­ally did,” he told re­porters. “There were bil­lows of smoke com­ing from Lawrence be­hind me. I could see pil­lars of smoke in front of me from the town of An­dover.”

The Mas­sachusetts Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency blamed the fires on gas lines that had be­come over-pres­sur­ized but said in­ves­ti­ga­tors were still ex­am­in­ing what hap­pened.

Columbia had an­nounced ear­lier Thurs­day that it would be up­grad­ing gas lines in neigh­bour­hoods across the state, in­clud­ing the area where the ex­plo­sions hap­pened. It was not clear whether work was hap­pen­ing there Thurs­day, and a spokes­woman did not re­turn calls seek­ing com­ment.

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