Gas explosions drive thousands from homes in Boston suburbs

Teenager killed as 'gas explosions' set homes ablaze

Some 8,000 people in Boston's suburbs had little hope of returning home soon as investigators scrambled on Friday to find out the cause of dozens of gas explosions that destroyed scores of homes in the biggest such accident in almost a decade.

Leonel Rondon, 18, was inside a auto in Lawrence, Massachusetts, when a chimney fell on the vehicle, said Carrie Kimball-Monahan, a spokeswoman with the Essex County District Attorney's office said.

It's hard to pinpoint the first call connected to the disaster that affected Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover, but by about 4:35 p.m. a police dispatcher said there were "hundreds" of calls for house fires and gas leaks, according to a Globe review of recorded channels for Lawrence police and Essex County fire and emergency medical services. "I'm contacting Andover, Lawrence, and Methuen to send engines out". That directed 20 fire engines and 10 fire ladder trucks to the Town of Andover plus the town's entire fire department.

The state police tweeted that local authorities and state troopers were helping evacuate residents to a senior center and a middle school while detectives and others investigated multiple scenes.

Also sending utility personnel to help with restoring service was Norwich Public Utilities (NPU), which general manager John Bilda said was "ready and willing to respond to this unprecedented event in MA, sending a number of our talented personnel to assist with this critical work". "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".

Although the exact cause of the explosions is not known, it is suspected that they resulted from an issue with gas service, with some lines said to have been overpressurized.

Columbia Gas was "the least informed and the last to act", Rivera said, at times getting emotional about what residents of his city who are still locked out of their homes have had to endure.

"If you smell gas, you gotta get out of your home", Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera told reporters.

"We expect this will be an extended restoration effort, and we will work tirelessly to restore service to the affected customers", the statement said.

Officials had cut power in the area and the streets were pitch black, except for the lights coming from emergency vehicles.

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.

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Authorities said an estimated 8,000 people were displaced at the height of Thursday's post-explosion chaos in three towns north of Boston rocked by the disaster. Resident Ra Nam says he was in his yard when the smoke detector in his basement went off around 4:30 p.m. EDT Thursday. Minutes later, a loud boom came from his neighbor's home.

He said a woman and two kids had made it out of the house but the basement was on fire.

Most patients were treated and released, but one was flown to a Boston hospital and one remains at Lawrence General in serious condition.

The Columbia Gas company had announced earlier that it would be upgrading gas lines in neighbourhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions happened. It was not clear whether work was happening there, and a spokeswoman did not return calls.

Even after residents return and their electricity is restored, gas service won't be turned on until technicians can inspect every connection in each home - a process that could take weeks.

Video from Sky7 HD showed fires burning at multiple homes and buildings.

State police say a joint investigation will be conducted when the situation is stabilized.

A series of gas explosions in a neighborhood near Boston on Thursday left one person dead and more than a dozen injured.

Kimberly Nicollosi was a block away from one house that exploded.

"It's very important that people do not try to turn on their own gas", he said. "It's really hard because the traffic right now is horrendous". The three communities, near the New Hampshire border, together have more than 146,000 residents. Lawrence, the largest, is a majority Latino city with a population of about 80,000.

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