About 8,000 residents from three towns north of Boston, Massachusetts are forbidden from returning to their homes after gas explosions on Thursday destroyed homes and caused dozens of injuries, including one death.
More than 70 explosions, fires, or investigations of gas leaks were reported resulting in more than 18,000 homes and businesses in Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence going without power, Reuters reports.
An 18-year-old was killed from one of the explosions that launched a chimney into his car and an additional 13 people were treated for injuries at Lawrence General Hospital.
In a statement, Columbia Gas offered condolences for the death of Leonel Rondon and claimed that “crews need to visit each of the 8,600 affected customers to shut off each gas meter and conduct a safety inspection.”
“Please do not enter your house unless you are accompanied by a gas company representative,” the statement emphasized. “We expect this will be an extended restoration effort, and we will work tirelessly to restore service to the affected customers.”
Investigators reportedly suspect that the explosions and fires were caused by a gas main owned by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts that was over-pressurized.
In a tweet, Andrew Maylor, the town manager of North Andover, told residents that “the restoration process will take several days or longer.”
At a news conference, Governor Charlie Baker called it “an incredibly difficult day.”
On Friday, Baker declared a state of emergency for Merrimack Valley — where the three towns are located.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is reportedly sending in a team to investigate.
“We will begin putting together our investigative teams and establishing our investigative protocols, looking at the design of the pipeline system and any maintenance and upgrades in the process of being done,” said the NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “The NTSB’s role is to conduct an accident investigation. We’re there to investigate the accident to determine what happened so we can keep it from happening again.”
“It looked like Armageddon,” Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield reportedly said.
Shelters at schools were set up by the Red Cross for residents that were unable to return to their homes.
In another tweet, Maylor gave his thanks for all of the food donations to the shelters but said, “No more food is needed.”
According to Reuters, the Massachusetts natural gas distribution system has piping more than a century old, making it one of the oldest in the United States.
“They are hiding from the problem,” Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera reportedly said in a press conference. “I think Columbia Gas should hold a public meeting no later than 4pm today with the press.”
Rivera also said that illegal immigrants shouldn’t feel unsafe in the shelters. “If you live in Lawrence, have a kid in Lawrence public school system, you have an address in Lawrence and you don’t have documents, do not be afraid,” he said. “Stay in the light. We will support you and your family. This is about getting people who live here safe. This is not about scaring people who live here and making them go somewhere else.”
The Lawrence Police Twitter account announced Friday morning that “all roadways into the city remain closed at this hour.”