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 north of Boston Thursday.
The blasts forced entire neighborhoods to evacuate as crews scrambled to fight the flames and shut off the gas.
Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, MA, died after a chimney from a house that exploded crashed into his car. He was rushed to a Boston hospital but pronounced dead shortly after arriving.
Massachusetts State Police urged all residents with homes serviced by Columbia Gas in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover to evacuate, snarling traffic and causing widespread confusion as residents and local officials struggled to understand what was happening.
“It looked like Armageddon, it really did,” Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield told reporters. “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.”
State and local officials are investigating the incidents, but it could take days or weeks before they turn up answers.
Hours after the explosions, the utility’s parent company issued a statement saying its crews were still performing safety checks in the area.
“Our thoughts are with everyone affected by today’s incident,” Indiana-based NiSource said in a statement. “The first priority for our crews at the scene is to ensure the safety of our customers and the community.”
By late Thursday, all fires were out, but areas remained silent and dark after residents fled and after power companies cut electricity to prevent further fires. Schools in all three communities were canceled for Friday, and some schools were being used as shelters for residents.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency blamed the fires on gas lines that had become over-pressurized but said investigators were still examining what happened.
Columbia said earlier Thursday it would be upgrading gas lines in neighborhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions happened. It was not clear whether work was happening there Thursday, and a spokeswoman did not return calls.
The three communities house more than 146,000 residents about 26 miles north of Boston, near the New Hampshire border. Lawrence, the largest of them, has a population of 80,000.