1 dead, at least 10 injured, in series of gas-related explosions

1 dead, at least 10 injured, in series of gas-related explosions

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

Leonel Rondon, an 18-year-old Lawrence resident, died after a house explosion sent a chimney crashing into his vehicle, the Associated Press reported. Rondon was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The newspaper said 10 people were injured in the gas explosions; however, Lawrence General Hospital reported earlier that 13 people were receiving treatment there.

The blasts left scores of homes and other buildings demolished or engulfed in flames as firefighters from some 50 departments scurried for hours from one blaze to another and utility crews rushed to shut off gas and electricity in the area to prevent further ignitions.

Officials were shutting down power in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover because of the emergency, state police said on Thursday evening.

The US Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said it was dispatching a team to support the state's emergency response efforts, an agency spokesperson said on Thursday.

"It was very scary", Williams told Reuters by telephone, saying she could see smoke on the skyline. "There will be plenty of time later tonight, tomorrow morning and into the next day to do some of the work around determining exactly what happened and why".

A 2011 natural gas explosion killed five people in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and that state's largest gas utility was fined by regulators, who called the company's safety record "downright alarming".

"The first priority for our crews at the scene is to ensure the safety of our customers and the community by supporting first responders and completing safety checks on our system and in the surrounding area", it said in a statement.

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

Officials said the cause of the events in Lawrence, a dense city of 80,000 people on the Merrimack River, and two quieter suburbs nearby, appeared to be related to a natural gas pipeline. "It's total destruction. I'd be completely devastated". In a release dated Thursday the company had said it would "be upgrading natural gas lines in neighbourhoods across the state". It was not clear whether work was happening there Thursday, and a spokeswoman did not immediately comment.

Officials are warning residents who return to their homes not to turn on the gas and to immediately evacuate if they smell gas at their home.

In neighbouring North Andover, town Selectman Phil Decologero said that his entire neighbourhood had gathered in the street, afraid to enter homes.

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

There will be no school today in Andover, Lawrence or North Andover. At one, the upper portion of a brick chimney crushed an SUV parked in the driveway.

The three communities house more than 146,000 residents about 26 miles north of Boston, near the New Hampshire border.

Not all of the fires have been fully extinguished yet, Mayor Dan Rivera said at a 00:30 local (04:30 GMT) press conference. "We need to get on with this".

It is believed the explosions were caused by gas leaks.

Later, FOX station Boston 25 reported that more than 20 people had been injured. Consolidated Edison later agreed to pay US$153 million to settle charges after the state's Public Service Commission found Con Ed violated state safety regulations.