At least one person has died and ten more have been injured up to 70 fires, gas explosions and reports of odors are investigated in the Massachusetts communities of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, Lawrence General Hospital has confirmed.
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.
Boston authorities are blaming the explosions on over-pressurized natural gas lines. The Andover fire department said in a press conference that it suspected “over-pressurization of a gas main” caused the series of blasts in the cities north of Boston.
The Andover fire chief also said the region is “still dealing with the possibility of gas running through some of the mains in an overpressurized state.”
According to Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon, there are between 20 and 35 homes on fire in Lawrence. Solomon, who’s in Lawrence, said there are so many fires, “you can’t even see the sky.”
The Massachusetts State Police said in a tweet that troopers were on the scene to assist with security and traffic control. Lawrence Fire told NBC Boston that they were responding to multiple incidents across the city where residents called in, saying there was a problem with their gas lines.
Columbia Gas customers in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover have specifically been asked to evacuate and shut off their utilities.
Media cited a ruptured gas line as a possible cause of the explosions, though state police said it was “far too soon to speculate about the cause.”
Columbia Gas had announced earlier that it would be upgrading the gas lines in neighbourhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions took place.
WATCH: Local residents captured the devastation on video
Residents from Andover are being evacuated to a seniors centre at 30 Whittier Court, and North Andover residents are being evacuated to a middle school located at 495 Main St.
Lawrence police Chief Roy Vasque told The Eagle-Tribune that he’s “never seen anything like this.”
Reports from WBZ-TV state that Andover police sent out an automated phone call telling residents to evacuate their homes and turn off the gas.
Police tweeted later on that numerous neighbourhood evacuations were currently underway and that a joint investigation was being conducted.
Officials in Andover are advising all residents and businesses to evacuate and shut off their gas, if they know how to do it safely. The town of Andover has 35,000 residents and is located about 40 kilometres north of Boston.
Residents of neighbouring North Andover have gathered in the streets, selectman Phil Decologero told the Associated Press.
“It’s definitely a scary situation at the moment,” he said. “It’s pretty severe.”
Whole neighbourhoods are being evacuated in Lawrence and city Coun. Marc Laplante said authorities were shutting off electricity.
“People need to get out of this area safely, and it’s really difficult because the traffic right now is horrendous,” he said.
WATCH: Emergency crews respond to reports of multiple explosions and fires
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said the three towns are “still very much an active scene” and that there would 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 and what needs to be done to deal with it.”
He said the priority right now is ensuring that people have shelter and that safety can be provided in communities that are affected by the gas leaks and fires.
Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera was firm: if you live south of the river, evacuate to the north, where gas customers didn’t face any issues.
North Andover Mayor Andrew said 12 to 14 houses are believed to have been affected there, but as yet the evidence authorities have has “not yet been able to identify a clear geographic area affected.”
Andrew Flanagan, the town manager of Andover, said officials are still trying to determine which parts of his town were most affected, and that an accurate timeline of when people can return to their homes cannot yet be provided.
Home to home checks
At a later news conference, Maylor said that staff with Columbia Gas are going around to every home in the affected areas to ensure that the gas has been turned off.
Each staffer is being accompanied by a police officer and a firefighter as they do this, he added.
In Andover, Flanagan said the impacted area was north of Route 28 and Salem Street.
Residents living south of Salem Street to North Redding were allowed to return to their homes.
In total, 8,000 gas customers were affected by Thursday’s events.
There were between 60 and 80 fires in total, and at least three explosions.
WATCH: Reception centres set up to take in evacuees of Massachusetts fire
Rivera urged people not to lose patience and assured residents that the authorities cannot afford to be taken off task.
Right now the focus is on getting to every home, making it safe,” he said.
- With files from the Associated Press