LAWRENCE, MA — Residents from an estimated 8,000 Merrimack Valley homes were displaced following a series of fires and explosions that had a fire chief likening the scene to Armageddon. The explosions, which officials said were believed to be caused by over-pressurization of a gas main, rocked Lawrence, North Andover and Andover Thursday afternoon, resulting in one confirmed death as of 12:30 a.m.
Latest Updates: Fire Officials: ‘Weeks’ Before Cause Of Explosions Is Known
Teams consisting of police, firefighters, and gas technicians started overnight the long process of going to thousands of homes to make sure the gas was turned off.
State Police said they responded to 70 fires, explosions, and gas leaks Thursday. All residents served by Columbia Gas were asked to evacuate. Electricity was shut off in all three communities.
Gov. Charlie Baker said shortly after midnight everyone was “heartbroken” to learn of the death of 18-year-old Leonel Rondon of Lawrence. Rondon was killed when a chimney from a house explosion crushed his car, the Essex County District Attorney’s Office said late Thursday night. He reportedly got his license Thursday.
About two dozen people were treated at Lawrence General Hospital and Holy Family Hospital as of 11 p.m. At least two of the victims needed surgery.
“This is still very much an active scene,” Baker said, adding that the priority was to provide shelter and safety for those affected.
Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield said there were 38 fires – more than half of which were burning simultaneously – and 17 gas leaks in town Thursday. Andover struck a 10-alarm response.
“It looked like Armageddon, it really did,” Mansfield said. “It looked like an absolute war zone.”
>>>See where Andover town officials said it was safe to return to as of 12:30 a.m.
North Andover Town Manager Andrew Maylor said 12-14 homes were impacted. “People can expect this is going to be a while before they can return to their homes,” he said.
The explosions appear to be concentrated in a one-mile square area south of the Merrimack River. Lawrence Mayor Dan River asked all residents of South Lawrence to evacuate as National Grid shuts off the power.
“Lawrence is a very resilient community,” Rivera said. “We’re going to be OK.”
Columbia Gas was scheduled to do work Thursday on Market Street in Lawrence, where a home is on fire.
“Columbia Gas crews are currently responding to reports of multiple fires in Lawrence,” Columbia Gas said in a statement issued at 9:20 p.m. “Our thoughts are with everyone affected by today’s incident.”
National Grid’s gas network is not affected.
Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence have canceled school Friday.
The Red Cross has deemed the following areas reception centers for those affected: Parthum Elementary School at 255 East Haverhill St in Lawrence, Field House at North Andover High School at 430 Osgood St., and the Andover Cormier Youth Center at 40 Whittier Court.
>>>Related: Hotel Offers Those Displaced ‘Rates Starting At $225’
Off-ramps to exits 41-45 on I-495 have been closed. Exit 45 off-ramps on I-93 North and South have been closed as well.
MBTA commuter rail trains on the Haverhill lane are experiencing delays because of a train stopped at the Ballardville station because of fire department activity.
Merrimack College evacuated its campus at about 6 p.m.
Patch will update this breaking story. Dave Copeland and Alex Newman contributed to this report.
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Photos Credit: WFXT/Malini Basu; Jefry Liriano, used with permission