‘It looked like Armageddon:’ Deadly blasts destroy homes
LAWRENCE, Massachusetts — A series of gas explosions an official described as “Armageddon” killed a teenager, injured at least 10 other people and ignited fires in at least 39 homes in three communities north of Boston on Thursday, forcing entire neighborhoods to evacuate as crews scrambled to fight the flames and shut off the gas.
Authorities said Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, died after a chimney toppled by an exploding house crashed into his car. He was rushed to a Boston hospital but pronounced dead there in the evening.
Massachusetts State Police said a total of 70 fires, explosions or investigations of gas odor had been reported. Some 50 fire departments responded to the emergency. It urged all residents with homes serviced by Columbia Gas in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover to evacuate.
“It looked like Armageddon, it really did,” Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield 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.”
Live television images showed firefighters battling blazes in the former mill towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, around 40 kilometers north of the Massachusetts capital.
The streets were darkened after nightfall with power cut off to the area as a precaution.
Governor Charlie Baker said state and local authorities are investigating, but it could take days or weeks before they turn up answers.
“This is still very much an active scene,” he said. “There will be plenty of time later tonight, tomorrow morning and into the next day to do some of the work around determining exactly what happened and why.”
Hours after the explosions, the utility’s parent company issued a brief statement saying its crews were still performing safety checks in the area.
By late on Thursday, all of the fires had been doused but many areas remained silent and dark after residents fled and after power companies cut electricity to prevent further fires. Classes at schools in all three communities were canceled for Friday, and some schools were being used as shelters for residents.
Lawrence resident Bruce Razin was among the evacuees standing outside the Colonial Heights neighborhood near the city’s high school trying to decide what to do next week.
Officials had cut power in the area and the streets were pitch black, save for emergency vehicle lights. Razin said he arrived just as residents were being evacuated, and immediately saw the house two doors down was leveled from an explosion.
“I couldn’t imagine if that was my house,” said Razin, who purchased his home nearly two years ago. “It’s total destruction. I’d be completely devastated.”
A building burns after explosions in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on Thursday.