On Thursday, multiple gas-related explosions and fires occurred in Merrimack Valley, including the communities of Lawrence, North Andover, and Andover. The Massachusetts gas explosion caused dozens of homes and businesses to be set on fire, with some being leveled completely, and all three communities to be evacuated. Per police, they have since received 60 to 100 reports of fires and explosions.
The incident killed one and left at least a dozen in the hospital with injuries that range from smoke inhalation to blast injuries. Lawrence Hospital has reported that they have received thirteen patients with one being transferred to a hospital in Boston and at least two of the patients requiring surgery.
Reports coming from the scene have been harrowing.
Andover Fire Rescue Chief Michael B. Mansfield told reporters that "this has been an overwhelming event." He went on to state that he had never seen anything like the scene in nearly four decades of his time in the fire service. "It looked like Armageddon, it really did."
Another police officer called to assist claimed the fires were so thick "you can't even see the sky."
Authorities have stated that it's too early to know the true extent of the damage.
Protecting Residents & Preventing Further Tragedy in Merrimack Valley
In the hours following the blast, the top priority has been evacuating those still at risk. Several neighborhoods were evacuated due to gas odors, according to state police, and many residents are being urged to leave. The Lawrence mayor made a stern warning during a Thursday news conference:
"If you have not evacuated, you have to go. Don’t wait for there to be a fire. Trust us when we tell you, if you stay in your homes, you are at risk. Get out of your house and go north of the river."
The North Andover Town Manager said people should expect it to be a while before they can return.
Explosions Potentially Linked to Columbia Gas Activity
While officials are still investigating the cause, stating it's too early to know for sure what occurred, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency has since blamed the fires on overpressured gas lines.
The explosion is being potentially linked to Columbia Gas activity. The company had put out a news release on Thursday morning stating they would be upgrading natural gas lines statewide to focus on improved safety features. Later that day, National Grid stated that they would be cutting off electricity to the affected areas. The communities hit by today's blasts were all included in the project.
It's been reported that the gas lines are being depressurized and that, currently, 18,000 customers are without power.
A North Andover middle school and Andover senior center have all been set up for evacuees.
At Arnold & Itkin, our thoughts and prayers go out to those who were affected by Thursday's tragedy. Check back here for updates as this story continues to unfold and more information becomes available.