Dozens of homes burst into flames Thursday after a series of gas explosions rocked three towns outside Boston, sending thick plumes of black smoke into the sky and forcing mass evacuations.
The Massachusetts State Police released a map that showed 70 confirmed fires and reports of gas odor over a few square miles in the towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover — and many residents were told to leave their homes immediately.
One 18-year-old man was killed when a chimney fell onto his car, the Essex District Attorney’s Office said.
A total of 10 people were being treated at Lawrence General Hospital — one in critical condition and one in serious condition. Cases ranged from smoke inhalation to traumatic blast injuries.
“MSP Fusion Center has current updated tally of responses to fires/explosions/investigations of gas odor at 70,” police wrote on Twitter. “Residents in the affected towns … who have gas service from Columbia Gas should evacuate their homes immediately.”
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Kimberly Nicollosi of North Andover told the Boston Herald she was a block away from one house when it suddenly exploded into flames.
“It just went up, it sounded like we were being bombed,” she told the paper. “The whole house just shook. I grabbed my kid, my dogs and I just left. It’s really scary.”
Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon — whose department helped in the response — said the number of fires burning across the Merrimack Valley at around 6:30 p.m. could be as high as 100, according to the Eagle-Tribune.
A potential cause for the explosions were “over-pressurized” gas lines in the structures, according to Boston’s WFXT-TV. Officials said Thursday night that the gas lines were being “depressurized” but it would take some time to have that completed.
National Grid said they were turning off electricity in all three neighborhoods to assist the “gas situation.”
Footage from the area showed firefighters battling flames at multiple locations as they struggled to keep up with the devastation. Smoke could be seen billowing out from the windows of numerous homes.
Andover’s official Twitter account ordered people to shut their gas off.