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1 dead, at least 10 injured in Mass. natural gas explosions

The Andover Police Department's Emergency Operations Center. (Andover MA Police Department/Facebook)

At least one person has died and several others are injured after a series of fires and natural gas explosions in Massachusetts. 

The following is a timeline of events, starting with most recent reporting:

11 P.M.

According to the District Attorney’s office, one person has died.

A chimney fell on Leonel Robson, 18, while he sat in his car in his driveway at 35 Chickering Road in Lawrence.

At least 10 others were injured. No word on their conditions at this time.

10:25 P.M.

Columbia Gas crews are currently responding to reports of multiple fires in Lawrence, MA. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by today’s incident. We will continue to share information as it becomes available.

— Columbia Gas MA (@ColumbiaGasMA) September 14, 2018

Got the number of the Columbia Gas president and have tried him multiple times with no answer. Everyone wants answers. And we deserve them.

— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) September 14, 2018

10:50 P.M.

9:34 P.M.

Officials have announced that schools are closed tomorrow in Andover, Lawrence and North Andover.

There is no information yet about when power will be restored to the area, nor is there information about a timeline for schools to reopening.

8:13 P.M.

In Andover, all fires have been extinguished, where a total of 35 fires were reported. At the peak of the emergency, 18 fires were burning at the same time, according to town officials.

At least three people have been injured in Andover, including one firefighter and two civilians.

Residents and businesses were told to evacuate and remain away from their homes and buildings until officials have deemed them safe, according to town officials, including Town Manager Andrew Flanagan.

The Andover Senior Center and Andover Youth Center are open for residents who have been displaced. Additional facilities may be opened if necessary.

Fire crews will remain in Andover throughout the evening, officials said.

Andover Fire-Rescue Department struck a 10-alarm response at 5:01 p.m., its maximum traditional fire response. That directed 20 fire engines and 10 fire ladder trucks to the Town of Andover plus the town’s entire fire department.

However, a lot of those resources were diverted by concurrent 10-alarm situations in Lawrence and North Andover.

Fire Chief Michael Mansfield requested, through the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, two additional fire task forces to respond to Andover. This sent an additional 20 engines and ladder trucks total to Andover. Chief Mansfield also requested an ambulance task force, sending 10 ambulances to Andover.

Mansfield said fire departments from as far away as Boston, Needham and Belmont, as well as the state Fire Marshal’s Office and MEMA had come to the town’s assistance.

Chief Patrick Keefe said that police resources from throughout Massachusetts have responded to Andover, including the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council Rapid Response Team, the NEMLEC Motor Unit, Massachusetts State and Police. Chief

7:12 P.M

Lawrence General Hospital reports that four people have been treated in connection with the Columbia Gas Co. explosions.

Cell service has been extremely spotty all around the region.

Officials were advising people to find other routes besides Interstate 495 due to heavy travel between Andover and Lawrence. Exits 42 through 45 are closed according to the Massachusetts State Police.

6:58 P.M.

MBTA commuter rail Haverhill line will only be running as far as North Wilmington.

6:53 P.M.

National Grid has announced it will cut off electricity in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence.

6:41 P.M.

As first-responders struggled to keep up with their fight against dozens of fires in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, residents continued to leave their homes, many making their way to a number of emergency evacuation centers in the area.

Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon said 60 to 100 fires are burning across the Merrimack Valley at 6:35 p.m., and multiple people were hurt, according to reports.

The fires are attributed to problems with Columbia Gas Co. and officials are telling people that if they have Columbia Gas service they should evacuate their homes — even if there is not an odor.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation sent staff to the scene to be of assistance, according to reports. No further details concerning their role was available.

Haverhill issued a robocall at 6:05 p.m. saying that the city was not affected by the explosions in nearby communities.

Information was scarce for Andover residents, who received reverse 911 calls with orders to shut off their gas lines and evacuate their homes, but not much more.

Several people milled about outside their homes on North Main Street and Lewis Street in North Andover near the Public Safety Center, gathering pets and packing up cars.

The apparatus floor of the firehouse was devoid of vehicles, several of them instead racing down clogged streets to answer new calls, adding chaos to an already gridlocked commute. Fire trucks from Groveland, Burlington and Salem, New Hampshire, further blocked roads as they pulled into the station, waiting for orders of how to help amidst the growing crisis.

Around the corner, Susan Waldie sat in the grass, waiting for her daughter and grandchildren to arrive so she could evacuate to Haverhill to stay the night with family.

“If my house blows up, there’s nothing I can do,” she said.

Her neighbor, Erika Halloran, was pacing while fielding phone calls from friends and family, as sirens blared across the downtown.

“I have to study for a geography quiz,” her son, 15-year-old Andrew Halloran said with a shrug, looking mildly bewildered as he stretched out on the grass by the public safety center. “I don’t think that’s happening.”

6:10 P.M.

In Lawrence, several residences burned unattended as there weren’t enough firefighters to respond to every incident. Fires burned on Kingston, Inman and Springfield streets.

A house exploded on Chickering Road in Lawrence and injuries were reported.

“We’re very upset. It’s pretty frightening to see your house explode,” said a woman on Chickering Road who declined to give her name.

Cameron Couillard, a Lowell resident who works at the Shawsheen Plaza, said, “Everyone felt the shake.”

In Andover fires burned on High and Elm streets.

In North Andover fire damaged a house on Waverly Road.

Merrimack College in North Andover and the Merrimack Valley YMCA of Andover/North Andover were evacuated by 6 p.m., as was Phillips Academy, Andover.

Kristina Fabiano of 57 High St. in Andover said she walked into the apartment building around 4 p.m. and smelled gas.

She called her husband to tell him, “It really smells.”

She said when she was opening the back door she heard the fire alarm go off in the basement.

After calling 911 she said it took 20 minutes for firefighters to arrive.

“This is so terrible,” she said, as she stood by with her husband, both crying.

Eleven people live in the apartment complex, Fabiano said.

The fire was smoky at first and then bright orange flames could be seen inside through the front door and windows, she said.

Police and firefighters ordered everyone in the vicinity, including a reporter, to leave the area and go to the center of town where it’s safe.

Thick, black smoke billowed from a large, old home on Herrick Street near the intersection with Waverly Road in North Andover. It appeared to take the firefighters a significant amount of time to get water flowing into the home. At least one fire hydrant on Waverly road did not appear to be working.

No flames were visible, but the smells of smoke and gas were pervasive on the street, as were the sounds of helicopters overhead and sirens passing by, headed to other fires.

The emergency response tied up traffic on Waverly Road as neighbors stood outside watching the firefighters work.

Bill Gibbs, the homeowner, arrived about 20 minutes after his neighbor called him to report the fire. He said he’d been on the scene for 10 minutes but did not have any information yet.

“They don’t know anything,” he said.

When asked if he could describe how he was feeling, Gibbs answered simply: “No.”

“Won’t be sleeping there tonight,” he added.

A neighbor, Klara Strakosha, said she loved the old house.

“I think this house is done,” she said sadly. “It’s very old.”

5:43 P.M.

Fire Chief Michael Mansfield said 25 to 30 active fires were in progress in Andover, according Board of Selectman Chairman Alex Vispoli. At least 18 fires were underway in Lawrence, according to officials. No reports were available as to the extent of fires in North Andover at 5:30 p.m.

“There are multiple basement fires in Andover. It’s some kind of gas issue,” said Lt. Edward Guy, spokesman for the Andover Police Department. “We urge residents if they are smelling gas to get out of the house and contact 911. We will get units out there.”

In Andover a robocall was made to residents asking them to shut off the gas in their homes, but people on social media were asking how to do so and expressing confusion.

At Stadium Plaza on Route 114 in Lawrence a medical response center was being set up. Four ambulances were lined in a row about 5:15 p.m Several more ambulances had been dispatched.

Officials were heard notifying Holy Family Hospital in Methuen to expect multiple admissions.

An emergency operations center was set up at the Public Safety Complex at 32 North Main St. in Andover. A fire task force and the police and fire chiefs were enacting an emergency system protocol.

The Andover Senior Center also was set up for evacuations.

Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority buses were commissioned to function as evacuation vehicles.

In North Andover, the high school was set up as an evacuation site and the gas was shut off in the building to ensure it would not explode.

North Andover police drove through the downtown area broadcasting over their public address systems urging people to leave their homes if they smell gas.

Much of Methuen’s police force was diverted to Lawrence to assist.

A house at 85 Colonial Road in Lawrence was actively smoking as firefighters hosed it down just after 5 p.m. Some firefighters carried axes.

Police officers knocked on doors to make sure residents were out of their houses.

No civilians were on the scene at Colonial Road, but on nearby Chickering Road a number of people were seen watching.

On Route 114, a civilian directed traffic away from Chickering Road.

One caller to the newspaper said he didn’t know how to shut off the gas and could not reach fire or police personnel.

“I had a hard time believing it was an authentic emergency message,” said Ben Bolinski of Radcliff Drive in Andover.


© 2018 The Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, Mass.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.