One person was killed and least 25 were injured Thursday after suspected gas line explosions rocked three communities north of Boston, causing dozens of homes to ignite.
Fire departments responded Thursday to about 150 emergency calls that included 60 to 80 structure fires in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, where thousands of residents were forced to evacuate. And at least one Lawrence resident, 18-year-old Leonel Rondon, was killed because of a home explosion.
“From a public safety perspective, this incident is stabilizing,” Kurt Schwartz, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said at a press conference Friday morning. “At this point, all fires from yesterday afternoon and last night have been extinguished and are out. And there have been no new gas-related fires since yesterday evening and night.”
Columbia Gas said Friday morning that its crews were working to visit the 8,600 affected customers to shut off every gas meter and conduct a safety inspection, asking residents not to re-enter their houses until accompanied by a Columbia representative. But as of Friday at 3 p.m., Columbia Gas had shut off service to 3,230 customers so far.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera slammed Columbia Gas at a press conference Friday afternoon, accusing the company of failing to develop a coherent response plan or provide clear answers about what happened. “Since yesterday, when we first got word of this incident, the least informed and the last to act has been Columbia Gas,” Rivera said, calling on the company to hold a public meeting by 4 p.m. Friday. “They’re hiding from the problem.”
At a press conference later that afternoon Steve Bryant, president of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, defended the company’s response to the explosions, while acknowledging that it had yet to shut off service to more than than half of the affected customers. He said he expected to have reached all 8,600 customers by Saturday or Sunday, at which time residents would be able to return home.
“We’ve advanced this as rapidly as it could possibly be advanced. I don’t think that anybody else managing this would have been any further down the road than we are at the moment,” Bryant said. “We are sorry. We’re sorry and deeply concerned about the inconvenience. This is the sort of thing that a gas distribution company hopes never happens.”
Baker said Friday that the state was continuing to bring in hundreds of natural gas technicians to check each building in the affected neighborhoods before restoring power. “We ask for continued patience as this important work is done,” Baker tweeted. “Once utilities secure the affected areas, we will work with the federal government to investigate how this occurred and hold people accountable for their actions.”
Here’s what we know so far:
Firefighters responded to 60 to 80 structure fires caused by gas explosions in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover on Thursday, officials said.
Emergency officials said Friday that an investigation by state and federal agencies, including the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), into the gas explosions was ongoing.
“Our mission is to find out what happened, so that we can learn from it and keep it from happening it again,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said at a press conference Friday. “We’re not there to point fingers, to lay blame, to assign fault. We are here to conduct a safety investigation.”
Sumwalt said the NTSB would be investigating the design of the gas pipeline system and any pipeline maintenance that was in progress, as well as its integrity management system.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency blamed over-pressurized gas lines for starting the fires, but said Friday morning that there was not yet any information about what caused the over-pressurization.
At a press conference Friday afternoon, Bryant, the president of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, directed reporters to the NTSB, deferring questions about the cause and whether the explosions could have been prevented.
Video footage from the scene showed firefighters working to put out the massive infernos, which appeared to fully engulf many of the homes.
Lawrence police Chief Roy Vasque told local newspaper The Eagle-Tribune that he had “never seen anything like this.” Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield told reporters the explosions “looked like Armageddon,” according to the Associated Press.
Was anyone injured in the house explosions near Boston?
At least 25 people, including a firefighter, were injured by the fires, the Associated Press reported.
Leonel Rondon, an 18-year-old Lawrence resident, was sitting in a car with friends when a nearby house exploded, and the chimney fell on his car, the Boston Globe reported, citing a spokesperson for Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett’s office. Rondon had been sitting in the car with three people, one of whom injured her legs and remains hospitalized, the Globe reported.
Rondon, who had just earned his driver’s license and had a job interview coming up on Sunday, was transported to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
One person in critical condition was transported to a Boston trauma center. And more than a dozen victims were also treated at Lawrence General Hospital for minor injuries, as well as “smoke inhalation and blast trauma,” the hospital said in a tweet Thursday night.