One person died, several were injured and scores of MA residents were forced to evacuate their homes as dozens of fires raged following a series of gas explosions in three communities north of Boston.
An 18-year-old was killed from one of the explosions that launched a chimney into his auto and an additional 13 people were treated for injuries at Lawrence General Hospital.
On its website, Columbia Gas had posted a note to MA customers that it was upgrading natural gas lines "in neighborhoods across the state" to enhance safety and reliability.
Soon after the fire, Andover police sent out an alarm urging residents to evecuate their homes and turn their gas pipes off. Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera said that all the residents have been asked to evacuate their homes.
Evacuations are now underway, forcing entire neighbourhoods to clear the area as crews scramble to douse the flames and shut off gas and electric lines in an attempt to prevent further damage. A middle school in North Andover and a senior center in Andover were set up for evacuees, according to the state police.
National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said it would likely take investigators some time to examine the pipeline's design, maintenance and upgrades.
At least a dozen people have been injured in the explosions and fires.
Gas technicians and first responders were going door-to-door reviewing thousands of homes in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover and shutting down gas mains as residents wait in shelters.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency has blamed the blasts on over-pressurised gas lines.
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"It looked like Armageddon, it really did", Andover fire chief Michael Mansfield told reporters.
"Columbia Gas is investigating what happened on its system today", said Ken Stammen, a spokesman for NiSource. All fires were put out overnight, state officials said.
Although the exact cause of the explosions is not known, it is suspected that they resulted from an issue with gas service, with some lines said to have been overpressurized.
Lawrence's Rivera said Friday morning that officials were not yet letting people in South Lawrence back into their homes.
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.
Guilfoil said six people in Andover were taken to hospitals by paramedics as a precaution because they had preexisting conditions.
"Replacing leak-prone infrastructure is a leading priority", the utility said in April.
Traffic into the town of Lawrence has been blocked as police report multiple injuries. And that's it. In situations like this, authorities always want to be sure they get it right, and that's admirable, but it can't be used as an excuse to say nothing at all.
In nearby Methuen, which responded to the incidents, Police Chief Joseph Solomon said he thought about 25 homes were on fire in Lawrence.
- A 2011 natural gas explosion killed five people in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and that state's largest gas utility was fined by regulators who called the company's safety record "downright alarming".