Sat, Sep 15, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Gas blasts destroy homes near Boston

‘SCARY SITUATION’:Residents said they saw homes leveled from explosions and aerial footage of the area showed houses that appeared to have been torn apart

AP, LAWRENCE, Massachusetts

A series of gas explosions one 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.

Lawrence resident Leonel Rondon, 18, died after a chimney toppled by an exploding house crashed into his car, authorities said.

He was rushed to a Boston hospital, but pronounced dead there in the evening, they added.

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

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

A man whose neighborhood was among dozens that erupted in fire said he ran into his basement to find that the room was glowing.

Lawrence resident Ra Nam said he was in his yard when the smoke detector in his basement went off at about 4:30pm.

When he ran downstairs and saw the boiler on fire, he quickly grabbed a fire extinguisher and put it out, he said.

Minutes later, Nam said he heard a loud boom from his neighbor’s house and the ground shook.

A woman and two kids had made it out of the house, but the basement was on fire, he said.

Lawrence resident Bruce Razin was among the evacuees standing outside the Colonial Heights neighborhood near the city’s high school later that day trying to decide what to do next.

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.”

With a backpack full of personal items he had hastily grabbed, he said he would head to his mother’s home a few towns over for the night.

Lawrence General Hospital said it was treating four victims with injuries related to the fires, but did not provide details about their conditions.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency blamed the fires on gas lines that had become over-pressurized, but officials who responded to the area were still investigating the cause.

Columbia Gas was working to ease pressure on gas lines following the fires, state officials said.

Columbia Gas had announced earlier in the day that it would be upgrading gas lines in neighborhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions happened.

It was not clear whether work was happening there on Thursday, and a spokeswoman did not immediately return calls.

Reached by telephone, some local officials described scenes of panic as residents rushed to evacuate, many wondering if their homes would be next to erupt in flames.

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