Gas explosions drive thousands from homes in Boston suburbs

EPA-EFE  REX  Shutterstock Firefighters gain entrance into a house through a basement window to check the gas line in Lawrence Massachusetts USA 13 September 2018. A series of reported gas explosions in

Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence were rocked by gas explosions and several fires around 5 p.m., drawing emergency responders from across the region to battle the between 60 and 80 fires that broke out nearly simultaneously due to a situation involving the communities' gas lines.

Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, died after a chimney toppled by an exploding house crashed into his auto, authorities said. A hospital spokesperson told CNN one person is in critical condition, and another patient is listed as serious.

Earlier on Thursday, before the fires broke out, the utility company that services the area announced it would be upgrading natural gas lines in neighborhoods across the state.

State Police say at least 39 fires erupted Thursday afternoon in the communities of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.

More than 70 gas explosions sparked blazes across three communities as crews scrambled to douse the flames and shut off gas and electric lines to prevent further damage.

"Everyone wants answers. And we deserve them", he said.

The State Fire Marshal's Office and the FBI are involved in the investigation, and the National Transportation Safety Board also plans to send a team on Friday.

The flight crew alerted the Lawrence Fire Department of the gas leak, and firefighters were able to confirm the presence of the leak underground and manage it accordingly, police said.

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

"It looked like Armageddon, it really did", Andover fire chief Michael Mansfield told reporters.

Hurricane Florence still a threat despite downgrade
Officials in the potential path of Florence urged people to evacuate their coastal homes and directed drivers away from the coast. Boarding up his home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Chris Pennington watched the forecasts and tried to decide when to leave.

Columbia Gas is investigating, NISource spokesman Ken Stammen said on Thursday.

The Governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, described it as a "public safety event" in the early hours of Friday, but said officials were now "confident" there would be no further fires.

A map posted by Massachusetts State Police shows dozens of explosions and fires spread over the area. Ten people were being treated at Lawrence General Hospital, spokeswoman Jill McDonald Halsey said. About 18,000 customers were without power.

The cause wasn't immediately clear.

"When you return to your home, if the gas is turned off, under no circumstances should you turn it back on", Schwartz said. There were reports that the company was trying to depressurize its lines in the area. Once the regulatory agencies release their findings, "and we better understand the root cause of the incident, AGA is prepared to work with our members, state and federal pipeline safety regulators and other interested stakeholders to take additional actions to preserve the safety of the natural gas delivery system and the communities we serve".

In Lawrence, however, the entire south side of the city remained an evacuation zone as of 11 a.m. Friday.

Gas utilities have come under heightened scrutiny in recent years for an aging network of pipelines that critics say are not being properly inspected and maintained, posing a growing risk to public safety.

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera estimated there are between 20 and 25 fires across the city, according to WCVB. Solomon, who's in Lawrence, says there are so many fires "you can't even see the sky".

Massachusetts State Police tweeted: "Power company will be shutting OFF power to all of #Lawrence, #NorthAndover, and #Andover to assist in the gas situation".

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