An 18-year-old man is dead and several others have been injured as dozens of homes exploded or caught on fire Thursday evening outside Boston due to gas leaks.
Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon said 60 to 100 fires were burning in Lawrence, North Andover, and Andover, all in Massachusetts’ Merrimack Valley. Solomon noted that the fires were so bad that “you can’t even see the sky.”
“It looked like Armageddon. It really did,” Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield said at a press conference Thursday night.
“There were billows of smoke coming from Lawrence behind me. I could see plumes of smoke in front of me within the town of Andover. It just looked like an absolute war zone. [It’s] something that I’ve never experienced in my fire service career, and hopefully I don’t have to experience it ever again.”
The first reported fatality, identified as 18-year-old Leonel Robson of Lawrence, was killed when a house explosion sent a chimney flying into his car.
Lawrence General’s chief of emergency medicine told NBC10 Boston that the hospital had treated 10 patients. One was in critical condition and was transported, and another had “serious injuries.” All of the other patients treated had “minor” injuries.
The Eagle-Tribune reports that the National Grid announced it was cutting off all electricity in Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence after the Massachusetts State Police said there were 70 fires, explosions, and investigations of gas odor in the towns, which are home to 146,000 residents. Andover officials said all 35 fires in the town had been extinguished, with 18 fires burning at once at the situation’s peak.
Officials say they traced the problem to an issue with Columbia Gas Company, and residents who receive gas from the company were asked to leave their homes.
The company that owns the Columbia Gas Company, NiSource, issued a statement late Thursday offering condolences to “everyone affected by today’s incident” but provided no explanation for the explosions. The company said crews are currently performing safety checks.
The Associated Press also reports that the Columbia Gas had announced earlier Thursday that it would be “upgrading gas lines in neighborhoods across the state,” including the affected area. It’s unclear if that work had started. State police said Thursday evening the company was “working to depressurize gas lines in the area.”
With so many incidents happening at once, The Eagle-Tribune reports local emergency responders were struggling to keep up. The FBI was on the scene to lend assistance, and fire departments from other Massachusetts towns and New Hampshire rushed to the area to provide assistance. Residents in Andover received reverse 911 calls telling them to shut off their gas lines and evacuate their homes, but any other information was reportedly scant.
Residents were seen packing up their cars and waiting outside their homes while roads were blocked by emergency response teams.
Resident Kimberly Nicollosi told The Boston Herald that she witnessed one house explode a block away from her.
“It just went up, it sounded like we were being bombed,” Nicollosi said, standing outside a North Andover middle school now turned into an evacuation center.
“The whole house just shook. I grabbed my kid, my dogs, and I just left. It’s really scary.”