A teenager was killed and 12 others were injured after a problem in a gas line caused dozens of explosions and fires in the Boston suburbs.
Thousands of people were evacuated as up to 60 fires started burning in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover on Thursday afternoon because of a problem with the natural gas system.
Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield said it ‘looked like Armageddon’, with decimated homes and so much smoke you ‘couldn’t see the sky’.
Authorities said Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, died 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.
Firefighters from some 50 different fire departments have been working to douse the flames.
Ten people have been hurt, including one firefighter in Andover. Town officials said two civilians in Andover were also injured.
In Lawrence, at least four people were said to be undergoing treatment at Lawrence General Hospital as of Thursday night, according to WHDH.
A woman trapped in her house during the explosion suffered leg injuries.
Authorities have also announced that electricity in all three towns was shut down, according to the Boston Herald.
‘Gas lines are currently being depressurized,’ Massachusetts State Police tweeted, adding that ‘it will take some time.’
‘Numerous evacuations of neighborhoods where there are gas odors are underway,’ police said.
‘Far too early to speculate on cause. Joint investigation will be conducted when situation is stabilized.’
Authorities cut power to thousands of meters, police said, and residents in all three towns with utilities service from Columbia Gas had been asked to evacuate immediately.
‘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 on Thursday night that 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.’
According to The Eagle Tribune, officials have alerted Holy Family Hospital in Methuen to expect multiple admissions.
The Massachusetts State Police said in a tweet on Thursday that residents in the affected areas who have gas service from Columbia Gas ‘should evacuate their homes immediately if they have not done so’.
They updated the tweet to say that Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera is asking all residents of South Lawrence to evacuate their homes.
‘This is addition to evacuation of all Columbia Gas customers in Lawrence/Andover/North Andover,’ state police said. ‘Utility cos shutting off several thousand meters.’
Columbia Gas tweeted on Thursday: ‘Columbia Gas crews are currently responding to reports of multiple fires in Lawrence, MA.
‘Our thoughts are with everyone affected by today’s incident.
‘We will continue to share information as it becomes available.’
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.
Rivera said residents in South Lawrence looking for information on the gas and fire incidents should call 211.
Lt. Edward Guy, spokesman for the Andover Police Department, said: ‘There are multiple basement fires in Andover. It’s some kind of gas issue. We urge residents if they are smelling gas to get out of the house and contact 911. We will get units out there.’
One home in Lawrence was blown off its foundation,’ according to WCVB.
A neighbor told the outlet that multiple people were inside at the time. The neighbor said he saw some of the residents in the home trying to crawl out of the debris.
At the peak of the explosion, 18 fires were burning in Andover at one time, officials. All the fires in Andover have been extinguished, where a total of 35 fires were reported.
Residents and business owners in the area were told to stay away until officials confirm that it’s safe for them to return.
Lawrence Police Chief Roy Vasque told The Eagle Tribune that he’s ‘never seen anything like this.’
Earlier on Thursday, before the explosions, Columbia Gas said in a news release that it was upgrading natural gas lines in neighborhood across the state.
The company said the improvements would lead to long-term benefits including enhanced safety features and reliable service.
Work on the upgraded gas lines was expected to begin on Monday and continue until Friday, with gas service shut off during the installation.
The FBI sent special agents to the area to assess the situation.
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.