Last night, we reported on the Massachusetts gas explosion that occurred in communities of the Merrimack Valley. Fire Rescue Chief Michael B. Mansfield described the scene as being apocalyptic as homes in Lawrence, North Andover, and Andover erupted in flames. Some estimates have placed the number of damaged structures to be between 60 and 80.
One 18-year-old man was killed when a house exploded with enough force to launch its chimney into the air. A cavalcade of bricks from the chimney fatally injured the man, who was sitting in a car just outside the home. Officials have stated that 25 other people are being treated in local hospitals for their injuries. Some of these people will require surgery to recover from their wounds.
Frightening accounts of the Thursday night explosions have been given by witnesses. Many are reporting sudden fires, explosions, and confusion as neighborhood streets filled with dismayed residents.
An Investigation Begins
Over 8,000 people are now evacuated from their homes as investigations regarding the incident begin. Power and gas have been shut down to homes in the affected areas, and schools and government offices are remaining closed on Friday.
Natural gas technicians are arriving in the towns, so they can inspect the safety status of unexploded gas lines. “Utility technicians must do their jobs to make sure everyone has a safe place to return to,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “This will not be an easy process and we ask for continued patience.” The National Transportation Safety Board is dispatching a team to investigate what they describe as what “appears to be multiple explosions involving a natural gas pipeline.”
The Involvement of Columbia Gas
The area’s natural gas pipelines are maintained by Columbia Gas. Notably, the company informed residents hours before the explosion that it would begin upgrading gas lines in the area the following week. In statements to the media, the governor urged the gas company to conduct a “comprehensive safety plan” while Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera has stated the city’s intent to hold someone accountable.
Columbia Gas began depressurizing its gas lines as reports of the disaster began to emerge. Lines are designed to carry gas at high pressure. However, if lines go too long without maintenance, they weaken and become prone to leaks and explosions.
While speaking to the Washington Post, mechanical engineer Glen Stevick commented, “It’s possible there’s some reason to increase pressure. Usually, that means there are areas they suspect the pipe might be experiencing corrosion or it’s very old. If you keep a good database of your pipes and periodically hydro test, it’s the safest way to transport any fuel, but it does take some diligence.”
Gas companies must be diligent so that the homes and lives of innocent people are protected. When accidents occur, negligence is often at the root of it. We hope that those who lost homes and those who were injured by this terrible event quickly get the answers they need.