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.
“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 crews were still working on Friday to visit the 8,600 affected customers to shut off every gas meter and conduct a safety inspection, the company said, asking residents not to re-enter their houses until accompanied by a Columbia representative.
“What happened in the Merrimack Valley yesterday was a tragic incident. We are saddened to learn of the death of a young man as a result of these events,” Columbia Gas said in a statement on Friday. “Our thoughts and continued support are with those who have been injured and affected.”
Lawrence resident Leonel Rondon, 18, was killed in his car when his home exploded and the chimney fell onto his vehicle, WCVB reports.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday that the state is continuing to bring in hundreds of natural gas technicians to check each building in the affected neighborhoods before restoring power.
“Overnight last night and through this morning, state and local officials have brought together every resource available to get people safely back in their homes. This will not be a simple process but doing it right is essential to making sure everyone remains safe,” Baker said in a series of tweets Friday morning.
“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.
MSP Fusion Center has current updated tally of responses to fires/explosions/investigations of gas odor at 70. Spread over wide swath of south #Lawrence and northern part of #NorthAndover with several others across Merrimack River in north Lawrence. pic.twitter.com/a7kBYaWFrJ— Mass State Police (@MassStatePolice) September 13, 2018
Emergency officials said Friday that an investigation by state and federal agencies, including the National Transportation Safety Board, 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,” National Transportation Safety Board 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
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 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 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.