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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press In an image from television news footage, flames consume the roof of a home in Lawrence, Mass., a suburb of Boston, on Thursday.

Friday, September 14, 2018 1:00 am

Gas blasts burn dozens of homes near Boston

1 dead, 10 injured as neighborhoods empty in 3 towns

PHILIP MARCELO | Associated Press

LAWRENCE, Mass. – 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 on Thursday, forcing entire neighborhoods to evacuate as crews scrambled to fight the flames and shut off the gas.

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 evacuate Thursday afternoon, snarling traffic and 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.”

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

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.

By late Thursday, all 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 canceled for today, and some schools were being used as shelters for residents.

Lawrence resident Bruce Razin was among the evacuees standing outside the Colonial Heights neighborhood near the city's high school trying to decide what to do late Thursday.

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 evacuated and immediately saw that the house two doors down was leveled from an explosion.

“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.”

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