1 dead in natural gas explosions in Mass.: It looked like Armageddon

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The Columbia Gas company had announced earlier that it would be upgrading gas lines in neighbourhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions happened.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday afternoon declared a state of emergency and authorized the chairman of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to authorize Eversource to take management control over the coordinated effort "to safely restore utility services in South Lawrence, Andover and North Andover".

Management for the American Gas Association (AGA), which represents more than 200 companies that deliver gas throughout the United States, said, "Our hearts go out to those who are suffering and have lost loved ones and homes as a result of the tragic incidents in MA". She was less enthused when she got a text message from Columbia Gas instructing her to call a number to find out when she could get her gas turned back on.

Columbia Gas, a unit of utility NiSource Inc, is investigating, NISource spokesperson Ken Stammen said on Thursday.

A MA man who spent the night in a shelter because of the risk of a gas explosion at his home says the ordeal was more confusing than frightening. Safety is at the very core of the work we do as an industry and natural gas utilities work tirelessly to help ensure the safety of their customers, communities and employees.

Columbia Gas was "the least informed and the last to act", Rivera said, at times getting emotional about what residents of his city who are still locked out of their homes have had to endure.

As many as 33,000 people in the towns of Lawrence, North Andover, and Andover were urged to "evacuate their homes immediately if they have not already done so", though it is not yet known the exact total of people who evacuated. All fires were put out overnight, state officials said. Some of those who were forced to flee quickly as darkness fell Thursday attempted to return home Friday to grab supplies and belongings.

Officials were also shutting down power in the three towns, Massachusetts State Police said Thursday evening.

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera reassured immigrants who might not be living in his city legally that they had nothing to fear.

"Everyone wants answers. And we deserve them", he said.

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State Police said Andover residents are evacuating to the senior center at 30 Whittier Court, North Andover is evacuating residents to the middle school 495 Main Street.

Early on Friday (Saturday NZT), the utility issued a statement saying its crews need to visit each of the 8600 affected customers to shut off each gas metre and conduct a safety inspection. We are saddened to learn of the death of a young man as a result of these events.

Columbia Gas also said it's working with officials to "investigate this incident in order to understand its cause".

The incident is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Fire Marshal's Office and the National Transportation Safety Board, local media report. Gas pipelines are within the agency's jurisdiction.

BRYAN EATON/Staff photo. Evacuees enter the Parthum School in Lawrence to be checked in on Thursday night.

Sumwalt said his agency would look at "the design of the pipeline system, any maintenance or upgrades being done or in process of being done on the pipeline".

"We are not sure that's going to be anytime soon".

The Massachusetts natural gas distribution system is one of the oldest in the United States, with the age of some of the piping more than a century old, according to utility company disclosures with the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. "More than 500 resources from several affiliated Columbia Gas companies and other utilities are now mobilizing to provide assistance". Columbia Gas had the two most costly incidents - one in Springfield in 2012 and Canton in 2015. One home appeared to be completely leveled and many others were seriously damaged.

Despite having about 25 percent fewer miles of pipe than the bigger gas utility National Grid, Columbia Gas has had more incidents costing more money - nearly $3 million since 2010. A gas leak had been reported before that blast. It only had an average of two leaks for every 10 miles of pipe.