Company to open claims center after gas blasts

Company to open claims center after gas blasts

Company to open claims center after gas blasts

An 18-year-old Lawrence man, Leonel Rondon, died when one explosion knocked over a chimney that fell on his auto, a spokeswoman at Massachusetts General Hospital said.

Lawrence General Hospital says it's treating six patients from the gas explosions including two in critical condition.

Massachusetts State Police urged all residents with homes serviced by Columbia Gas in the three communities to evacuate, snarling traffic and causing widespread confusion as residents and local officials struggled to understand what was happening.

On its website, Columbia Gas had posted a note to MA customers that it was upgrading natural gas lines "in neighborhoods across the state" to enhance safety and reliability.

North Andover police drove through the downtown area to warn residents to evacuate their homes if they smelled gas and diverted officers to Lawrence to assist.

Fire and utility crews were still going door-to-door on Friday to conduct safety checks and shut off gas meters, officials said, after firefighters raced for hours from one blaze to another and utility crews rushed to shut off gas and electricity on Thursday.

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.

He said the National Transportation Safety Board was also sending a team headed by its chairman, Robert Sumwalt, to investigate the disaster.

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera said in a press conference that 12-14 homes were directly impacted, and while they can't located a geographic area, if you have gas in your home, you should evacuate.

There have been at least 70 explosions in the towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, with a ruptured gas pipeline being blamed.

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.

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"Residents should disregard any calls from individuals claiming to be soliciting donations on behalf of the Andover Fire Department", said Fire Chief Michael Mansfield in a statement.

Columbia Gas has been shutting off all service to customers in all three towns, MPS officials said in a tweet.

Officials said dozens of fires and explosions were reported after an apparent gas line problem. The fires were reported across a "wide swath of dozens of blocks across Lawrence and North Andover", the state police said.

"What we know is that there have been multiple explosions, multiple fires that are happening across the city", Rivera told WBZ-TV.

A firefighter stands over the gas leak.

Customers with Columbia Gas have been primarily affected.

As the sun rose Friday, residents looked over damaged homes that were either blasted by explosions or consumed by flames.

Gas utilities have come under heightened scrutiny in recent years for an aging network of pipelines that critics say are not being properly inspected and maintained, posing a growing risk to public safety.

"Please do not enter your house unless you are accompanied by a gas company representative", the statement emphasized.

He said that placing a different utility company in charge will "make a big difference" in terms of getting information about the situation and acting to get people back to their homes.

He said there were so many fires "you can't even see the sky".

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