partlycloudy
Saturday September 22nd, 2018 1:27AM

'It looked like Armageddon:' Gas explosions destroy homes

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

LAWRENCE, Mass. (AP) — A series of gas explosions one official described as "Armageddon" left at least 10 people injured and ignited fires in at least 39 homes in three communities north of Boston on Thursday, forcing entire neighborhoods to evacuate as crews scrambled to fight the flames and turn off gas and electric lines to prevent further damage.

Massachusetts State Police urged all residents with homes serviced by Columbia Gas in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover to evacuate, snarling traffic and causing widespread confusion as residents and local officials struggled to understand what was happening.

"It looked like Armageddon, it really did," Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield told reporters. "There were billows of smoke coming from Lawrence behind me. I could see pillars of smoke in front of me from the town of Andover."

Gov. Charlie Baker said state and local authorities are investigating but that it could take days or weeks before they turn up answers.

"This is still very much an active scene," he said. "There will be plenty of time later tonight, tomorrow morning and into the next day to do some of the work around determining exactly what happened and why."

Hours after the explosions, the utility's parent company issued a brief statement saying its crews were still performing safety checks in the area.

"Our thoughts are with everyone affected by today's incident," Indiana-based NiSource said in a statement. "The first priority for our crews at the scene is to ensure the safety of our customers and the community."

Baker previously said authorities hadn't heard directly from Columbia Gas, but later called the company's response "adequate."

By late Thursday, all of the fires had been doused but many areas remained silent and dark after residents fled and after power companies cut electricity to prevent further fires. Schools in all three communities were canceled for Friday, and some schools were being used as shelters for residents.

Lawrence resident Bruce Razin was among the evacuees standing outside the Colonial Heights neighborhood near the city's high school trying to decide what to do next late Thursday.

Officials had cut power in the area and the streets were pitch black, save for emergency vehicle lights. Razin said he arrived just as residents were being evacuated, and immediately saw the house two doors down was leveled from an explosion.

"I couldn't imagine if that was my house," said Razin, who purchased his home nearly two years ago. "It's total destruction. I'd be completely devastated."

With a backpack filled with personal items he had hastily grabbed, he said he'd head to his mother's home a few towns over for the night.

In Lawrence, a man whose neighborhood was among dozens that erupted in fire says he ran into his basement to find that the room was glowing. Resident Ra Nam says he was in his yard when the smoke detector in his basement went off around 4:30 p.m. EDT Thursday.

When he ran downstairs and saw the boiler on fire, he quickly grabbed a fire extinguisher and put it out. Minutes later, Nam said he heard a loud boom from his neighbor's house and the ground shook. Nam said a woman and two kids had made it out of the house but the basement was on fire.

Lawrence General Hospital said it was treating 10 victims, including at least one in critical condition.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency blamed the fires on gas lines that had become over-pressurized but said investigators were still examining what happened.

Columbia had announced earlier Thursday that it would be upgrading gas lines in neighborhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions happened. It was not clear whether work was happening there Thursday, and a spokeswoman did not return calls.

Reached by phone, some local officials described scenes of panic as residents rushed to evacuate, many wondering if their homes would be next to erupt in flames. In North Andover, town selectman Phil Decologero said his entire neighborhood had gathered in the street, afraid to enter their homes. Just a few streets down, he said, homes were burning.

"It's definitely a scary situation at the moment," he said. "It's pretty severe."

Aerial footage of the area showed some homes that appeared to be torn apart by blasts. At one, the upper portion of a brick chimney crushed an SUV parked in the driveway.

Soon after the first fires, Lawrence City Councilor Marc Laplante was warning residents in the Colonial Heights neighborhood to evacuate but said traffic had become a problem.

"People need to get out of this area safely," he said at the time. "It's really difficult because the traffic right now is horrendous."

Joseph Solomon, the police chief in nearby Methuen, said 20 to 25 homes were on fire in Lawrence when he responded to help. He said there are so many fires "you can't even see the sky."

The three communities house more than 146,000 residents about 26 miles (40 kilometers) north of Boston, near the New Hampshire border. Lawrence, the largest of them, is a majority Latino city with a population of about 80,000.

"Lawrence is a very resilient community. We're going to get through this together," Mayor Dan Rivera told reporters as emergency lights illuminated smoke in the night sky nearby.

Gas explosions have claimed lives and destroyed property around the U.S. in recent years.

A buildup of natural gas triggered an explosion and fire that killed seven people in apartments in Silver Spring, Maryland, in 2016.

In 2014, a gas explosion in New York City's East Harlem neighborhood killed eight people and injured about 50. Consolidated Edison later agreed to pay $153 million to settle charges after the state's Public Service Commission found Con Ed violated state safety regulations. A gas leak had been reported before that blast.

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."

___

Associated Press writers Alanna Durkin Richer and Collin Binkley contributed from Boston.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Business, AP Business - Industries, AP Business - Utilities
© Copyright 2018 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
'It looked like Armageddon:' Gas explosions destroy homes
A series of gas explosions left at least four people injured and ignited fires in at least 39 homes in three communities north of Boston on Thursday
9:57PM ( 3 minutes ago )
Gunman kills ex-wife, 4 others and himself in California
A gunman in Southern California fatally shot his ex-wife and a man at a trucking company before chasing after another man, killing him, and then driving to a home where he shot dead a father and daughter in a nearly 40-minute rampage
9:48PM ( 12 minutes ago )
Cuomo defeats Nixon in NY gubernatorial primary
Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has defeated primary challenger Cynthia Nixon to win his party's nomination for a third term
9:45PM ( 15 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
'Threat becomes reality': Florence begins days of rain, wind
The outer bands of Hurricane Florence are lashing the Carolina coast at the start of what forecasters say will be days of potentially disastrous rain and wind
9:11PM ( 49 minutes ago )
Ailing killer whale is declared dead off Northwest US coast
Efforts to find an ailing orca from a critically endangered population of killer whales off Washington state have come up empty, and a scientist who tracks them has declared her dead
9:03PM ( 57 minutes ago )
The Latest: Obama says sitting on sidelines is 'dangerous'
Former President Barack Obama says he has a simple message headed into the fall midterm elections: Vote
8:57PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Uncle: Man killed by officer aspired to St. Lucia leadership
Friends and family have remembered a 26-year-old gunned down by a Dallas police officer as a deeply religious man who loved to sing and told his uncle that he might one day want to be prime minister of his native Caribbean island country of St. Lucia
7:28PM ( 2 hours ago )
Hundreds of goats being airlifted out of Washington forest
Helicopters and trucks are relocating hundreds of mountain goats from Olympic National Park in an effort officials said will protect natural resources, reduce visitor safety issues and boost native goat populations elsewhere in Washington state.
7:25PM ( 2 hours ago )
The Latest: At least 4 injured in fires blamed on gas issue
At least four people are being treated for injuries after a series of fires north of Boston that authorities blame on a natural gas issue
7:03PM ( 2 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
Russian suspects in poisoning: We were in UK as tourists
The two Russian suspects in the poisoning of a former spy say they were only innocent tourists in Salisbury
7:26PM ( 2 hours ago )
Senator gives federal investigators information on Kavanaugh
The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee says she has notified federal investigators about information she received _ and won't disclose publicly _ concerning Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh
7:08PM ( 2 hours ago )
WHAT'S HAPPENING: Florence begins to batter Carolina coast
Hurricane Florence has begun to batter the Carolina coast, and she's not going away anytime soon.
6:19PM ( 3 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
Humbled Illinois governor admits errors, pleads for 2nd term
A humbled Gov. Bruce Rauner is promising a different kind of governor in a second term
6:21PM ( 3 hours ago )
VW to stop making iconic Beetle next summer
Volkswagen says it will stop making its iconic Beetle in July of next year
5:36PM ( 4 hours ago )
Congress passes spending deal, bids to avert gov't shutdown
The House has approved a $147 billion package to fund the Energy Department, veterans' programs and the legislative branch, a day after the Senate passed the measure. It now goes to President Trump for his signature.
5:25PM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Business
US stocks jump as inflation slows; tech rebounds
US stocks rise as Apple, Microsoft and Qualcomm lead a round of gains in technology companies and health care companies also move higher
4:45PM ( 5 hours ago )
WHAT'S HAPPENING: Florence's rain bands lash Carolinas
Hurricane Florence is at the doorstep of North and South Carolina, and she's not going away anytime soon
1:23PM ( 8 hours ago )
US energy chief: sanctions possible on new Russia pipeline
The United States could impose sanctions on a new Russia-Germany gas pipeline, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Thursday on a visit to Moscow.
12:52PM ( 9 hours ago )
AP Business - Industries
German forest standoff: Police clear protester tree homes
Authorities in western Germany have moved in to remove tree houses built by activists in an ancient forest slated to be cleared to allow for coal strip mining
11:16AM ( 10 hours ago )
In Moscow, US energy chief slams new Russia-Germany pipeline
U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has restated U.S. opposition to a new Russia-Germany gas pipeline during talks in Moscow
10:31AM ( 11 hours ago )
World stocks rise on report of US-China trade talks
Many global markets are higher following a report that the U.S. has proposed a new round of trade negotiations with China.
8:34AM ( 13 hours ago )
AP Business - Utilities
Gunman kills ex-wife, 4 others and himself in California
A gunman in Southern California fatally shot his ex-wife and a man at a trucking company before chasing after another man, killing him, and then driving to a home where he shot dead a father and daughter in a nearly 40-minute rampage
9:48PM ( 15 minutes ago )
Cuomo defeats Nixon in NY gubernatorial primary
Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has defeated primary challenger Cynthia Nixon to win his party's nomination for a third term
9:45PM ( 19 minutes ago )
The Latest: Democratic socialist Salazar wins NY primary
Democratic socialist Julia Salazar has overcome scrutiny of her personal life and questions about truthfulness to win the Democratic primary for a state Senate seat in Brooklyn
9:44PM ( 20 minutes ago )
Brown throws 5 TDs, BC beats Wake Forest, 41-34
Anthony Brown threw two of his career-high five touchdown passes to Jeff Smith, and Boston College beat Wake Forest 41-34 on Thursday night in a game that started two hours early with Hurricane Florence approaching
9:42PM ( 21 minutes ago )
Baez's bunt single lifts Cubs past Nationals in 10 innings
Javier Baez delivered the go-ahead run with a bunt single in the 10th inning, and the Chicago Cubs beat the Washington Nationals 4-3 in a makeup of a game postponed earlier in the week
9:38PM ( 26 minutes ago )