The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.
LAWRENCE — Three-man crews consisting of a police officer, a firefighter and a gas technician will be combing through Lawrence, Andover and North Andover overnight to ensure all gas lines have been turned off, officials said.
About 80 technicians were out in those communities as of 1 a.m., said Kurt Schwartz, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. About 40 are in Lawrence, and 20 more are in both Andover and North Andover.
Schwartz said between 60 and 80 structure fires were reported across the three towns, and there were at least three explosions. About 25 people were treated at local hospitals, he said, and one person, an 18-year-old Lawrence man, was killed.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency said in a statement late Thursday the local gas utility, Columbia Gas, reported the explosions and fires were due to gas line over-pressurization.
“Obviously, today’s incidents have been traumatic for the people of Lawrence, North Andover and Andover,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “Thankfully, neighbors helped neighbors, police, fire and our first responders jumped into action quickly, and despite the fluid situation these communities are experiencing, local state and federal partners are working together to make sure the communities are safe.”
As of the 1 a.m. press conference Friday, officials said some fires were still burning, but no new ones were expected to ignite.
Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera asked that people be patient and not return to their homes until they have been told it is safe by public safety officials.
“We’re not sure if that’s going to be any time soon,” he said. “That stuff is meticulous. It’s got to be done right.”
Rivera urged residents to make plans to be away from home for at least the next 24 hours. He requested that residents remain calm, adding “we are incredibly emotionally involved in this matter.”
North Andover Town Manager Andrew Maylor echoed Rivera’s remarks and cautioned “everyone not to get impatient at this time,” citing safety concerns.
Baker said “several folks” from the federal government have arrived in the Merrimack Valley to investigate the cause of the emergency. Schwartz said those officials are from the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the National Transportation and Safety Board. From the state level, the Department of Public Utilities will also be investigating.
The state and local officials had few answers regarding the cause of the gas leak, noting that their first priority on Thursday was public safety.
“Trust me,” Rivera said, “we want those answers, too.”
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