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Dublin: 7 °C Tuesday 25 September, 2018
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At least one dead as fires and explosions erupt in multiple US towns near Boston

Is is thought an “over-pressurised” gas line is to blame.

Firefighters battle a raging house fire in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston.
Firefighters battle a raging house fire in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston.
Image: AP/PA Images

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 late on Thursday.

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.

Massachusetts State Police urged all residents with homes serviced by Columbia Gas in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover to leave their homes, 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.”

Governor Charlie Baker said state and local authorities are investigating but that it could take days or weeks before they turn up answers.

Gas Explosions Residents cover their face from the smoke while being evacuated from homes as firefighters battle a fire on Bowdoin Street. Source: Tim Jean via PA

“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.”

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 cancelled 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 neighbourhood near the city’s high school trying to decide what to do.

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 moved, and immediately saw the house two doors down was levelled from an explosion.

Gas Explosions A collapsed house in northern Boston following gas explosion. Source: AP/PA Images

“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 neighbourhood 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. 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 neighbour’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.

Gas Explosions A house on fire in northern Boston. Source: AP/PA Images

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency blamed the fires on gas lines that had become over-pressurised but said investigators were still examining what happened.

Reached by phone, some local officials described scenes of panic as residents rushed to leave, many wondering if their homes would be next to erupt in flames. In North Andover, town selectman Phil Decologero said his entire neighbourhood 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 neighbourhood 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”.

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