clear
Saturday November 17th, 2018 10:18AM

'It looked like Armageddon:' Deadly gas blasts destroy homes

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

LAWRENCE, Mass. (AP) — A series of gas explosions an official described as "Armageddon" killed a teenager, injured at least 10 other people and ignited fires in at least 39 homes in three communities north of Boston, forcing entire neighborhoods to evacuate as crews scrambled to fight the flames and shut off the gas.

Authorities said Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, died Thursday after a chimney toppled by an exploding house crashed into his car. He was rushed to a Boston hospital but pronounced dead there in the evening.

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."

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.

"Additional support is being provided by crews from several affiliated Columbia Gas companies and other utilities," the statement said. "We expect this will be an extended restoration effort, and we will work tirelessly to restore service to the affected customers."

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."

— In September 2010, a Pacific Gas and Electric gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno, California, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes.

___

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

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, 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.
Koreas open 1st liaison office for better communication
The rival Koreas have opened their first liaison office near their tense border to facilitate better communication and exchanges
3:38AM ( 16 minutes ago )
'It looked like Armageddon:' Deadly gas blasts destroy homes
A series of gas explosions killed a teen and left at least 10 other people injured, one critically, and ignited fires in at least 39 homes in three communities north of Boston on Thursday
3:36AM ( 18 minutes ago )
LEADING OFF: Indians can clinch, Cubs' new closer hurt
LEADING OFF: Indians can clinch, Cubs' new closer hurt, Scherzer faces Braves, Diamondbacks in Houston
2:42AM ( 1 hour ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Florence's onslaught could cue disaster in North Carolina
Hurricane Florence already has inundated coastal streets with ocean water and left tens of thousands without power, and forecasters say the worst is to come
2:12AM ( 1 hour ago )
Honolulu dam's neighbors warned as storm raises water levels
Honolulu officials on Thursday prepared for the possible evacuation of 10,000 people from a residential neighborhood after rains from a tropical storm dangerously elevated water levels in a reservoir
2:03AM ( 1 hour ago )
Federal court rules against DeVos in for-profit fraud case
A federal court has ruled it was "arbitrary and capricious" for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to delay an Obama-era rule meant to protect students swindled by for-profit colleges
1:40AM ( 2 hours ago )
AP National News
Ailing killer whale declared dead, but feds to keep looking
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
12:07AM ( 3 hours ago )
No progress as US, Cuba meet on mysterious 'health attacks'
Cuba said Thursday the United States is continuing to withhold important information that could help in the investigation into mysterious incidents that have injured some two dozen Havana-based American diplomats
11:23PM ( 4 hours ago )
'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
11:07PM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Online National News
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
11:34PM ( 4 hours 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 ( 6 hours 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 ( 6 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
Asian shares continue rally after Wall Street gains
Asian shares are mostly higher Friday, continuing their rally after gains on Wall Street and hopes that regional trade tensions may ease
11:31PM ( 4 hours ago )
The Latest: Teen killed when exploded chimney falls on car
Authorities say an 18-year-old man has died after a house exploded amid gas explosions north of Boston, sending a chimney crashing into his car
11:16PM ( 4 hours ago )
Evacuation underway as huge typhoon nears Philippines, China
Philippine officials have begun evacuating thousands from danger zones in the path of the most powerful typhoon this year, closing schools and readying bulldozers for landslides
10:54PM ( 5 hours ago )
AP Business
Technology stocks, led by Apple, push Wall Street higher
US stocks rise as Apple, Microsoft and Qualcomm lead a round of gains in technology companies and health care companies also move higher
5:14PM ( 10 hours ago )
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 ( 11 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 ( 14 hours ago )
AP Business - Industries
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 ( 15 hours ago )
The Latest: More than 1,000 flights canceled
A flight-tracking service says about 1,200 U.S. airline flights scheduled for Thursday or Friday have been canceled, with some airports in the Carolinas essentially shut down
12:26PM ( 15 hours ago )
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 ( 16 hours ago )
AP Business - Utilities
Koreas open 1st liaison office for better communication
The rival Koreas have opened their first liaison office near their tense border to facilitate better communication and exchanges
3:38AM ( 17 minutes ago )
LEADING OFF: Indians can clinch, Cubs' new closer hurt
LEADING OFF: Indians can clinch, Cubs' new closer hurt, Scherzer faces Braves, Diamondbacks in Houston
2:42AM ( 1 hour ago )
Cuomo cruises past Nixon in NY gubernatorial primary
Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has defeated primary challenger Cynthia Nixon
2:34AM ( 1 hour ago )
Elizabeth Smart says kidnapper being released still a threat
Elizabeth Smart said Thursday the news that one of her kidnappers will be released from prison next week was "a big shock," and she hopes there is a way the woman can be committed to a treatment facility.
2:32AM ( 1 hour ago )
Trump disputes estimate of Puerto Rico storm deaths
President Donald Trump is rejecting the official death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico
2:31AM ( 1 hour ago )