Panicked neighborhoods north of Boston evacuate as gas blasts destroy homes

EPA-EFE  REX  Shutterstock Firefighters gain entrance into a house through a basement window to check the gas line in Lawrence Massachusetts USA 13 September 2018. A series of reported gas explosions in

The gas firm's parent company, Indiana-based NiSource, earlier said its thoughts were with those affected.

Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield told reporters "it looked like Armageddon, it really did".

As a result, Baker put rival utility Eversource Energy (ES.N) in charge of the response to the explosion, replacing Columbia Gas.

More than three dozen homes went up in flames Monday when fires and explosions erupted in northern MA in what were believed to be gas-related incidents, authorities said.

Andover Police Department Lieutenant Eddie Guy told NBC's Today television show Friday morning that officials believe the blasts were caused by over-pressurized gas lines.

Emergency response teams responded to the incidents that affected residents in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, communities about a half hour north of Boston.

National Grid, the electricity provider in the three communities, shut off electric service to about 18,000 customers on Thursday night, as requested by emergency officials, and many remained without power on Friday. Schools in all three communities were cancelled for Friday, and some schools were being used as shelters for residents.

Another Lawrence resident, Bruce Razin, said the house two doors down from where he lived had been levelled from an explosion.

Mary Jo Shafer, a copy editor at the New Hampshire Union Leader, was at her parents' house on Barnard Road in Lawrence as the first reports of fires were coming in.

In Lawrence, a man whose neighbourhood was among dozens that erupted in fire says he ran into his basement to find that the room was glowing.

He ran downstairs and discovered his boiler on fire - and minutes later, he heard a loud boom from his neighbour's house, causing the ground to shake.

He said a woman and two kids had made it out of the house but the basement was on fire.

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He said the fires were gas-related and have all been extinguished.

Officials said four victims were being treated at Lawrence general hospital for injuries.

"Numerous evacuations of neighbourhoods where there are gas orders are underway". The Columbia Gas company had announced earlier that it would be upgrading gas lines in neighbourhoods 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 seeking comment.

The three communities house more than 146,000 residents and are located about 26 miles (42 kilometers) north of Boston.

Late into Thursday, crews were still scrambling to shut off gas lines, officials said.

Andover Police sent out an automated phone call telling residents to evacuate their homes and turn off the gas, and North Andover Police told residents and businesses with gas service to exit their buildings until further notice.

Columbia Gas President Steve Bryant said in a separate news conference that he understands why the governor took control of the restoration effort away from his company, but he said his employees have been working hard.

As pressure mounted Friday for gas company officials to provide answers about what happened, Sens.

State Police say they have confirmed fires at 39 locations but warn the number will grow.

Solomon, who responded to Lawrence to help, said there are so many fires "you can't even see the sky".

Massachusetts State Police released a statement saying: "Incidents are across a wide swath of dozens of blocks across Lawrence and North Andover".

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