100 HOMES IN THREE TOWNS NORTH OF BOSTON DESTROYED IN EXPLOSIONS.
Freak chain of gas blasts shakes three towns
LAWRENCE, MASS. • 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.”
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.