At least 39 homes exploded or burned in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover, Massachusetts, as a result of gas leaks, and at least one man died when the chimney of a house collapsed and crushed his car.
About a dozen other people were injured from fires and blasts in the cities north of Boston, according to local TV station WHDH. Massachusetts State Police said there had been more than 70 reports of fires, explosions, or gas odor.
“It looked like Armageddon, it really did,” Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield said, according to WCVB. “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.”
In South Lawrence, the mayor told all residents to evacuate their homes, and state police told anyone with Columbia Gas service in the three towns to evacuate Thursday night.
The cause of the leaks is not totally understood, but the Washington Post reported that investigators had one theory involving “over-pressurization of a gas main owned by Columbia Gas, which had been upgrading equipment in the area,” citing a spokeswoman for the state fire marshal’s office. The company had announced Thursday morning that it was conducting upgrade projects around the state, including in Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence.
Restoring gas service will likely be a long and arduous process. Columbia Gas said that its staff will “need to visit each of the 8,600 affected customers to shut off each gas meter and conduct a safety inspection.” Roughly 18,000 homes were without power Friday morning, the North Andover Tribune reported.