’How can 100 homes sud­denly ex­plode?’

Freak chain of gas blasts shakes three towns

Calgary Herald - - WORLD - Bob Salsberg

• In­ves­ti­ga­tors worked Fri­day to pin­point the cause of a se­ries of fiery nat­u­ral gas ex­plo­sions that killed a teen driver in his car just hours af­ter he got his li­cence, 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 al­lowed to re­turn to their homes.

“It looked like Ar­maged­don, it re­ally did,” said An­dover Fire Chief Michael Mans­field.

Aerial footage of the area showed some homes that ap­peared to be torn apart by blasts. The Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board sent a team to help in­ves­ti­gate the dis­as­ter in a state where some of the aging gas pipe­line sys­tem dates to the 1860s.

Be­fore the ex­plo­sions on Thurs­day, Columbia Gas no­ti­fied cus­tomers that it would be “up­grad­ing nat­u­ral gas lines in neigh­bour­hoods across the state,” and said that the move would bring in­creased reli­a­bil­ity and “en­hanced safety fea­tures.”

The rapid-fire se­ries of gas ex­plo­sions ig­nited fires in 60 to 80 homes in the work­ing-class towns of Lawrence, An­dover and North An­dover, forc­ing en­tire neigh­bour­hoods to evac­u­ate as crews scram­bled to fight the flames and shut off the gas and elec­tric­ity.

Au­thor­i­ties said Leonel Ron­don, 18, of Lawrence, died af­ter a chim­ney top­pled by an ex­plod­ing house crashed into his car. Ron­don, a mu­si­cian who went by the name DJ Blaze, had just got­ten his driver’s li­cence.

The sud­den ex­plo­sions and dire warn­ings set the en­tire re­gion on edge. Even peo­ple in un­dam­aged homes with work­ing util­i­ties piled suit­cases, bikes and pets into ve­hi­cles, on their way to stay any­where else with fam­ily and friends. The smell of smoke was per­va­sive for miles.

Local au­thor­i­ties were un­able to of­fer in­for­ma­tion about when res­i­dents would be cleared to re­turn home. The gas com­pany warned res­i­dents in af­fected ar­eas Fri­day: “Please do not en­ter your house un­less you are ac­com­pa­nied by a gas com­pany rep­re­sen­ta­tive.”

They also cau­tioned res­i­dents to re­frain from turn­ing on gas me­ters with­out au­tho­riza­tion. An im­pa­tient per­son with a wrench could in­ad­ver­tently spark an­other ex­plo­sion.

An­dover res­i­dent Mac Daniel said, “The big ques­tion we’re all ask­ing is how did this hap­pen? How can 100 homes sud­denly ex­plode? We’ll find the an­swers, but it’s very, very strange.”

WCVB VIA THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Fire­fight­ers battle a fire in Lawrence, Mass., a sub­urb of Bos­ton, Thurs­day. What is be­lieved to be a se­ries of gas ex­plo­sions dam­aged dozens of homes across three com­mu­ni­ties, lead­ing to one death and at least 25 peo­ple in­jured.

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