Gas Explosions, Fires North of Boston; 1 Dead

CREDIT: WBZ-TV

LAWRENCE (WBZ-AM) -- The Merrimack Valley communities of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover, located approximately 20 miles north of Boston, are reeling following dozens of gas explosions that left one dead and several injured. 

Officials say that a total of 70 homes may have been affected across the three communities.

Update 12:18AM EDT 9/14/18

The Essex District Attorney's office confirmed that Leonel Rondon, 18, was killed when a chimney from a house explosion fell on the car he was inside on Chickering Road in Lawrence.

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Police say that these explosions were triggered by work on high-pressure Columbia Gas lines around 4:30 p.m. In a statement, the company said their crews were responding to multiple reports of fires in Lawrence.

"Our thoughts are with everyone affected by today’s incident," the statement read. "The first priority for our crews at the scene is to ensure the safety of our customers and the community by supporting first responders and completing safety checks on our system and in the surrounding area."

The company said that, if customers smell an odor of natural gas, they should immediately leave the area and call 911 or their emergency number, 1-800-525-8222.

All Columbia customers in the three cities have been told to evacuate their homes, and Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera has asked asked all residents of South Lawrence to evacuate as well. 

"This is still very much an active scene," Gov. Charlie Baker said during a press conference Thursday night. 

Baker added that there would be time later to determine the cause--but that the focus now was on providing shelter and safety for those affected. 

Asked if he was pleased with Columbia Gas's response, he paused before calling it "adequate."

The total number of injured was not yet known. Lawrence General Hospital says they are currently treating six patients from the gas-related situation, and that two are in critical condition. Holy Family Hospital said in a statement that they saw a total of ten patients related to the incidents, and that all were either in stable condition or being actively discharged.

In Andover, at least four people were transported, two of whom are firefighters who suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Initial reports coming in to WBZ NewsRadio 1030 said the first report came from a house explosion on Chickering Road in Lawrence, while fires at homes on Salem Street and Springfield Street were also reported.

The State Fire Marshall Service says that they are sending investigators to all three cities.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Transportation Safety Board have responded to the area.

People living in that area have been instructed to turn off their gas, evacuate their homes, and refrain from turning on anything electrical.

National Grid has turned off electricity serving all those communities.

The following shelters have been opened:

South Lawrence: Residents can go the Parthum School in North Lawrence located 255 E Haverhill St, Lawrence, MA 01841

In North Andover: Residents can go the field house at North Andover High School at 430 Osgood Street and the Middle School at 495 Main Street

In Andover: Residents are being evacuated to the Senior Center at 30 Whittier Court and the Cormier Youth Center at 40 Whitter Court in Andover, MA

Gov. Charlie Baker is monitoring the situation and is in communication with public safety officials, MEMA, and first responders. In a tweet, he echoes evacuation warnings in affected areas.

All schools have been cancelled for Friday September 14 for Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.

Merrimack College has also evacuated.

MBTA and Keolis say that all Haverhill Line service is currently suspended due to an emergency.

In addition, all courts in Lawrence were closed Friday.

Methuen Police Chief Joseph Sullivan said that his department was assisting in Lawrence, but that there were no explosions or fires in the city of Methuen.

"I just want to clear up any misinformation that's been going out," he said. "here is no explosions, no emergencies in the city of Methuen."

In a statement, the locked out gas workers of United Steelworkers Locals 12003 and 12012 said their "sympathy and prayers are with the families in the communities rocked by this terrible crisis, and with the utility workers and first responders working to save lives and repair the gas system."

"United Steelworkers Locals 12003 and 12012 would like to immediately offer our assistance to help in this very serious, life-threatening situation," their statement read. "Our 1,200 veteran natural gas workers are ready now to offer our experience and technical expertise during this crisis and to help safely restore service to the region.”

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