September 14, 2018 13:09:43
Dozens of homes have been destroyed and entire neighbourhoods evacuated after a series of sudden gas explosions north of Boston, in the US state of Massachusetts.
Crews scrambled to fight at blazes at 39 properties and turned off gas and electricity lines to prevent further damage, with Massachusetts State Police urging all residents with homes serviced by Columbia Gas to leave.
One man died and another 10 people were injured in the fires and explosions, which affected the communities of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover on Thursday afternoon.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency said it appeared the gas lines had become over-pressurised.
A man whose neighbourhood was among those affected said he ran into his basement to find the room was glowing.
Ra Nam, a Lawrence resident, said he was in his yard when the smoke detector in his basement went off about 4:30pm.
When he ran downstairs and saw the boiler on fire, he quickly grabbed a fire extinguisher and put it out.
Minutes later, Mr Nam said he heard a loud boom from his neighbour’s house and the ground shook.
He said a woman and two kids had made it out of the house but the basement was on fire.
Late on Thursday Lawrence resident Bruce Razin was among the evacuees standing outside the Colonial Heights neighbourhood near the city’s high school trying to decide what to do next.
Officials had cut power in the area and the streets were pitch black, except for the lights coming from emergency vehicles.
Mr Razin said he arrived just as residents were being evacuated, and immediately saw the house two doors down was levelled from an explosion.
“I couldn’t imagine if that was my house,” he said.
“It’s total destruction. I’d be completely devastated.”
Fires blamed on gas lines
Lawrence General Hospital said it was treating four people with injuries related to the fires, but it did not provide details about their condition.
State officials said Columbia Gas was working to ease pressure on gas lines following the fires.
Columbia Gas had announced earlier in the day it would be upgrading gas lines in neighbourhoods across Massachusetts, including the area where the explosions happened.
Its parent company said Columbia Gas crews were performing safety checks, but did not explain what went wrong.
Scenes of panic
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 neighbourhood 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.”
Aerial footage of the area showed some homes that appeared to be torn apart by blasts.
At one, the upper portion of a brick chimney had crushed a car parked in the driveway.
Schools and senior citizen centres have been opened as gathering points for residents who fled their homes.
Lawrence City Councillor Marc Laplante said “people need to get out … [but] it’s really difficult because the traffic right now is horrendous”.
‘You can’t even see the sky’
In nearby Methuen, police chief Joseph Solomon said 20 to 25 homes were on fire in Lawrence when he responded to help.
He said there were so many fires “you can’t even see the sky”.
By 7:00pm local time, officials in Andover said all fires in the town had been extinguished.
Massachusetts State Police said electricity was being shut off for all residents in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover, where some were still reporting an odour linked to natural gas.
The three communities house more than 146,000 residents and are located about 42 kilometres north of Boston.
September 14, 2018 12:05:00