Suspected gas explosions spark 60 fires, kill 1, injure 25 in Massachusetts

Posted at 1:57 PM, Sep 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-14 16:52:50-04

LAWRENCE, Mass. (AP) – The Latest on gas explosions in Massachusetts (all times local):

4:30 p.m.

The president of the utility company that services communities in Massachusetts damaged by natural gas explosions says it’s the “sort of thing that a gas distribution company hopes never happens.”

Columbia Gas of Massachusetts President Steve Bryant spoke to reporters Friday, shortly after the mayor of Lawrence sharply criticized the company for not providing more information and answers.

Bryant isn’t commenting on the suspected cause of the explosions, noting that the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

Bryant says the company is working to shut off service to all roughly 8,000 affected customers. He says Columbia Gas has set up a claims hotline for customers and will also be opening a claims center in Lawrence.

The blasts Thursday are being blamed for more than 60 fires, a death and about 25 injuries.


2:55 p.m.

The mayor of a Massachusetts community affected by a series of natural gas explosions is heavily criticizing utility Columbia Gas.

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera on Friday said that Columbia’s communications with local authorities have been poor and that the company is “hiding from the problem.”

The Democrat says the city evacuated the affected areas as asked, and had the electricity shut off as asked, but “everything since then has been obfuscation.”

He says his fire and police chiefs have not gotten any answers from the company.

Columbia Gas services Lawrence, as well as Andover and North Andover.

The blasts Thursday are being blamed for more than 60 fires, a death and about 25 injuries.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker backed Rivera and said he was declaring a state of emergency so the state could take over recovery efforts.

Massachusetts Home Explosion


2:20 p.m.

The teenager who died when a brick chimney dislodged by a gas explosion fell on his vehicle had received his driver’s license just that day.

Authorities identified that victim of Thursday’s series of explosions in Massachusetts as 18-year-old Leonel Rondon, of Lawrence.

The state Registry and Motor Vehicles and Rondon’s friends say he had just received his license Thursday.

Christian Caraballo tells The Boston Globe he was in the vehicle when the chimney fell in the driveway of a friend’s house. Three other young men in the vehicle got out and tried to move the chimney but couldn’t.

Friends say Rondon was a senior at Lawrence High School.

Massachusetts Home Explosion


1:20 p.m.

The CEO of a hospital in one of the Massachusetts communities affected by a series of natural gas explosions and fires says it treated 13 patients.

Dianne Anderson is CEO of Lawrence General Hospital. She says it dealt with injuries ranging from smoke inhalation to blast trauma.

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

Dr. Earl Gonzales says that patient requires additional surgery.

Anderson says the hospital trains for and is prepared for such situations.

Authorities say one person was killed at least 25 were injured in the fires Thursday in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.

The cause remains under investigation.

Massachusetts Home Explosion


12:45 p.m.

A subsidiary of the parent company of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts was blamed by federal investigators for a 2012 pipeline rupture and explosion in West Virginia.

The explosion destroyed three homes and sent flames shooting into the air. The pipeline was operated by Columbia Gas Transmission Corp., which at the time was owned by NiSource.

NiSource is the parent company of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, which services three communities where a series of fires and explosions killed a teenager and injured more than two dozen others on Thursday.

The National Transportation Safety Board said that the West Virginia rupture likely could have been prevented if the pipeline had been inspected or tested, but that it hadn’t been since 1988.

Investigators also said Columbia Gas Transmission’s response to the rupture was delayed.


11:30 a.m.

A Massachusetts man who spent the night in a shelter because of the risk of a gas explosion at his home says the ordeal was more confusing than frightening.

John Fluegge was one of about 100 people who spent the night on a cot in the North Andover High School gymnasium, which was converted into an emergency shelter.

The 58-year-old man said Friday he came home Thursday to find a note on the door of his apartment building telling everyone to leave because the gas and electricity were being shut off in response to several gas explosions and fires in the town.

His apartment was not damaged but he has still not been allowed to return because there is no power.

One person was killed and about 25 were hurt.


10:30 a.m.

The head of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency says firefighters responded to 60 to 80 structure fires in the three communities affected by a series of natural gas explosions.

Kurt Schwartz said Friday that firefighters in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover responded to about 150 emergency calls Thursday.

He says about 400 people spent the night in emergency shelters and no additional natural gas-related emergencies have been reported Friday.

The exact cause of the fires and explosions remains under investigation.

Gov. Charlie Baker said hundreds of natural gas technicians have been deployed throughout the area to go house by house to ensure they are safe.

The Republican governor says he realizes the situation is a “massive inconvenience” but asked for patience.

An 18-year-old man died and at least 25 people were injured in the fires and explosions.


8:30 a.m.

The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team to Massachusetts to investigate a series of gas explosions blamed for one death and dozens of fires.

An agency spokesman said during a news conference in Washington on Friday that pipelines are within the agency’s jurisdiction.

The spokesman says among other things, the agency will look at the design of the pipeline system, maintenance and upgrades that have been done, and the safety record of the pipeline operator.

The agency’s job is not to lay blame, but to determine what happened so it can be prevented from happening again.

The explosions were reported in the communities of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover north of Boston on Thursday afternoon.


6:43 a.m.

The company that provides natural gas service to the Massachusetts communities affected by a series of gas explosions and fires says it expects “an extended restoration effort.”

Columbia Gas in statement Friday morning said it is “working with the appropriate authorities to investigate this incident in order to understand its cause.”

The series of explosions and fires in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover killed a teenager, injured at least 10 other people and ignited fires in at least 39 homes.

The company says it needs to visit each of the 8,600 affected customers to shut off each gas meter and conduct a safety inspection.

About 18,000 customers in the region also had their electricity shut off in response to the explosions and many residents spent the night at shelters in area schools.


10:55 p.m.

Authorities say an 18-year-old man has died after a house exploded amid gas explosions north of Boston, sending a chimney crashing into his car.

Officials have identified the victim as Leonel Rondon, of Lawrence. They say he was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where he died around 8:30 p.m. EDT of his injuries.

Gov. Charlie Baker says 10 other people were injured Thursday in a series of fires and explosions that authorities blame on over-pressurized natural gas lines.

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