Gas explosions drive thousands from homes in Boston suburbs

US At least 70 fires blasts reported in three towns of Boston mass evacuations under way

Crew gather at the Columbia Gas of Massachusetts facility after dozens of explosions in Lawrence | Brian Snyder Reuters

Authorities said Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, died after a chimney toppled by an exploding house crashed into his auto.

An 18-year-old Lawrence man, Leonel Rondon, died when one explosion knocked over a chimney that fell on his auto, a spokeswoman at Massachusetts General Hospital said.

Massachusetts State Police said they had responded to 70 reports of fires, explosions and the smell of gas in a widespread zone encompassing the east coast towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.

"It looked like Armageddon, it really did", Andover Fire Rescue Chief Michael B. Mansfield said.

Before evacuating from North Andover, Jeremy Melvin described a chaotic scene near the plumbing shop where he works.

Crews work to knock down a fire in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on Thursday. Minutes later, Mr Nam said he heard a loud boom from his neighbour's house and the ground shook.

Officials in Andover, a town of 35,000 residents had advised all residents and businesses to evacuate and to shut off their gas, if they know how to safely. The cities are north of Boston.

"We don't want folks coming back to an apartment that's not cleared and have an issue with gas exposure", Rivera said.

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In the town of Andover, firefighters responded to 38 fires total - all of which have been extinguished. Before the explosions, Columbia Gas had said it would be upgrading gas lines in neighbourhoods across the state, including the affected suburbs.

An 18-year-old man died when a chimney fell on his auto, and another 10 people were injured in the fires and explosions, which affected the communities of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover on Thursday afternoon.

Residents in the aforementioned towns that are serviced by Columbia Gas of MA "should evacuate their homes immediately if they have not already done so", police advised.

Massachusetts State Police said that the gas lines are being depressurized, but noted that the process "will take some time".

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

At least 100 buildings have been destroyed or severely damaged after explosions triggered fires in the towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, Massachusetts, close to the city of Boston.

Six years ago, Columbia Gas accepted blame for a gas explosion in Springfield, Massachusetts, that injured 17 people.

A building burns after explosions in Lawrence, Mass., in this Thursday photo from social media by Boston Sparks. Passengers on three were being moved by bus.

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Rescue swimmers and other ground crew members will head straight to Raleigh, North Carolina, Macy said. The state said it was seeing at least three times the normal traffic volume on I-26.

Lawrence Councilor Marc Laplante said residents of South Lawrence also are being evacuated.

The Andover Senior Center and Andover Youth Center have been open for residents who have been displaced.

Residents in those areas with homes that are serviced by Columbia gas have been urged to evacuate.

As many families seek refuge in temporary shelters, officials are warning that it could be at least another day until many of them are allowed to return to their homes.

Fire crews then spent hours going from property to property tackling blazes, as gas technicians rushed to shut off gas supplies and assist in safety checks.

Twenty to 25 homes were on fire in Lawrence, said Joseph Solomon, the police chief in nearby Methuen.

Gas service was interrupted for 250 customers in Lawrence last month "due to hit line by a third party", according to Columbia Gas.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said it would likely take investigators some time to examine the pipeline's design, maintenance and upgrades.

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