70 fires and explosions erupt in MA

Firefighters inspect a home after gas explosions in North Andover Massachusetts on Thursday. — AFP

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Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera told WBZ: "What we know is that there are have been multiple explosions, multiple fires that are happening across the city".

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

Residents and people working in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover were urged to evacuate buildings or homes serviced by Columbia Gas after explosions and fires were reported.

"I have been in the fire service for nearly 39 years and I have never seen anything like this in my entire career", Andover Fire Rescue Chief Michael Mansfield said.

The Columbia Gas company said earlier on Thursday it would be upgrading gas lines in neighbourhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions happened, but it isn't clear whether work was being carried out in these communities. However, it was not immediately known whether any work was being done in those communities at the time.

Columbia Gas of MA, a NiSource company, in an update posted to its website at 11:10 a.m. Friday, said, "What happened in the Merrimack Valley.was a tragic incident".

As for criticism, he said the company has been "using all our resources. we want to restore service to all our customers".

The former head of that agency, Brigham McCown, called the series of gas explosions "unprecedented, at least in recent memory".

"I can't think of a series of natural gas-related incidents like this", McCown, who led PHMSA under President George W. Bush, told Reuters by telephone.

Officials had cut power in the area and the streets were pitch black, except for the lights coming from emergency vehicles.

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Two people, including a firefighter, sustained non-life-threatening injuries, said town spokesman John Guilfoil.

Merrimack College, a private Catholic school in North Andover, instructed its staff and students to evacuate "immediately".

Lawrence General Hospital says it's treating six patients from the gas explosions including two in critical condition.

CBS Boston reports there were 35 fires in Andover alone. "This event is not over tonight. This event will probably go on. probably another week, a week and a half", he said.

Andover, North Andover and Lawrence projects were included.

Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency and put Eversource in charge of restoration efforts in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover, saying he is not happy with the recovery so far by Columbia Gas following dozens of explosions and fires Thursday.

"This is still very much an active scene", he said. "My first thought was this is a gas explosion".

Soon after the first fires, Lawrence City Councilor Marc Laplante was warning residents in the Colonial Heights neighbourhood to evacuate but said traffic had become a problem. By later in the evening, gas meters had been shut off by Columbia Gas at about 8,600 meters, and residents were ordered to evacuate their homes.

Andover Police Department Lieutenant Eddie Guy told NBC's Today television show Friday morning that officials believe the blasts were caused by over-pressurized gas lines.

- A buildup of natural gas triggered an explosion and fire that killed seven people in apartments in Silver Spring, Maryland, in 2016.

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