A series of gas explosions killed a teenager, injured at least 10 other people and ignited fires in at least 39 homes in three communities near Boston on Thursday, forcing entire neighbourhoods to evacuate as crews scrambled to fight the flames and shut off the gas.
Authorities named the dead teenager as Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, died after a chimney toppled by an exploding house crashed into his car.
Live TV images showed firefighters battling blazes in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, about 25 miles (40 km) north of the US city.
The streets were darkened where authorities had cut off electricity and were shutting down gas service in an effort to stop further blazes.
“It looked like Armageddon, it really did,” said Michael Mansfield, Andover fire chief. “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.”
Flames consume a home in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston Credit: WCVB
Firefighters battle another house on fire, on Herrick Road in North Andover Credit: Mary Schwalm
At least three people, including one firefighter, were hurt in Andover, the town said in a statement. Six people were being treated at Lawrence General Hospital, said spokeswoman Jill McDonald Halsey. It was not immediately clear if any of those being treated at that hospital were from Andover.
Massachusetts State Police said a total of 70 fires, explosions or investigations of gas odor had been reported.
Authorities said nothing to indicate any foul play was suspected. The first explosion was triggered by an overpressurised gas line, Boston’s WBZ News reported.
Emergency crews respond to a series of gas explosions that have damaged homes across three communities north of Boston Credit: WCVB
North Andover resident Laurie Williams, 55, said she drove home from work to find police and fire vehicles blocking streets near her home, and learned three buildings nearby were on fire.
“It was very scary,” Williams said, with smoke visible on the skyline. “My first thought was this is a gas explosion.”
The Columbia Gas company, a unit of NiSource Inc, had said earlier on Thursday that it would be upgrading gas lines in neighborhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions occurred, but it was not immediately clear whether any work was being done in those communities.
“Columbia Gas is investigating what happened on its system today,” said Ken Stammen, a spokesman for NiSource.
The US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said it was dispatching a team to support the state’s emergency response efforts, an agency spokesperson said on Thursday.
Local media outlets’ Twitter feeds were filled with images of homes in flames or collapsed.
Fire trucks race to fight dozens of fires Credit: AP
“We are asking everybody with gas in their homes to leave their homes until further notice,” North Andover town manager Andrew Maylor told one local television station.
Dan Rivera, mayor of Lawrence, told WBZ: “What we know is that there are have been multiple explosions, multiple fires that are happening across the city.” He said residents detecting strange odors should leave their homes.
State police urged residents served by Columbia Gas to evacuate their homes, saying the utility was cutting pressure to its lines and that it would take “some time” to shut off all service.