‘It looked like Ar­maged­don:’ Deadly blasts de­stroy homes

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

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.”

BOS­TON SPARKS VIA REUTERS

A build­ing burns af­ter ex­plo­sions in Lawrence, Mas­sachusetts, on Thurs­day.

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