‘It looked like Armageddon:’ Deadly gas blasts destroy homes

Howard TerrySep 15, 2018

The explosions - just days after the eight-year anniversary of a deadly blast on a PG&E Corp. gas transmission line in San Bruno, California - may intensify the growing opposition across New England to using gas to heat homes and produce electricity.

At about 11 p.m. ET Thursday, troopers in helicopter MSP Air 5 of the Massachusetts State Police Air Wing "were working over Lawrence, providing overwatch support during the ongoing response after the gas explosions and fires", officials said.

Gas and electricity remained shut off Friday in most of the area, and entire neighbourhoods were eerily deserted.

Fire and smoke billowing out of a home in Boston, in the USA state of MA.

An 18-year-old man died when a chimney that had been toppled by an explosion fell on his vehicle in the city of Lawrence, according to the North Andover newspaper, The Eagle-Tribune.

Leonel Rondon, of Lawrence, was pronounced dead Thursday night at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, according to the Essex District Attorney's Office.

Rep. Seth Moulton immediately demanded answers from Columbia Gas, the utility company responsible for the lines involved.

Some residents who were returning to pick up essentials on Friday morning spoke about the frightening moments of the explosions and the devastation it left behind.

"This has been an overwhelming event", Andover Fire Rescue Chief Michael B. Mansfield told reporters. "I'm contacting Andover, Lawrence, and Methuen to send engines out".

Tran said when he opened his door to see what had happened, all he could see was smoke.

People cover their faces to protect themselves from heavy smoke from a fire on Bowdoin Street in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on Thursday.

Columbia Gas was fined $100,000 by the state for a variety of safety violations since 2010, including $35,000 in 2016 for failing to follow company and pipeline safety regulations when responding to an outage and repairing a leak in Taunton. "We expect this will be an extended restoration effort, and we will work tirelessly to restore service to the affected customers".

First responders in the Merrimack Valley were receiving the usual calls for minor injuries and small fires Thursday afternoon, until very suddenly the day became anything but normal, according to recordings of radio channels used by firefighters and police.

Police are on patrol in Lawrence tonight after power was cut off until officials can determine if the city is safe.

Massachusetts State Police tweeted that the fires broke out across a wide swath in the city of Lawrence and the town of North Andover. "Make plans for at least between now and this time tomorrow", Rivera said early on Friday. "It's total destruction. I'd be completely devastated".

Fitzgerald Billet walked a mile from a police blockade on the Andover-Lawrence line to reach his home on Crosby Street.

Early Friday, the utility issued a statement saying its crews need to visit each of the 8,600 affected customers to shut off each gas meter and conduct a safety inspection. State officials told residents who have gas service from Columbia Gas of MA to evacuate their homes immediately and said gas lines were being depressurized by the company.

When he ran downstairs and saw the boiler on fire, he quickly grabbed a fire extinguisher and put it out. Minutes later, a loud boom came from his neighbor's home.

Jill McDonald Halsey, a spokeswoman for Lawrence General Hospital, said the hospital now has five victims of the gas explosions and fires, and has activated it's emergency management plan.

Aerial footage showed houses in smoldering ruins.

"The follow-through just wasn't there", Baker said.

The three communities house more than 146,000 residents and are located about 42 kilometres north of Boston. Lawrence, the largest of them, is a majority Latino city with a population of about 80,000.

Homes in three towns north of Boston went up in flames on Thursday, consumed by more than 60 suspected gas fires.

"People need to get out of this area safely, and it's really hard because the traffic right now is horrendous", he said. Consolidated Edison later agreed to pay US$153 million to settle charges after the state's Public Service Commission found Con Ed violated state safety regulations.

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