Boston explosions: At least one dead and 12 injured as gas explosions set fire to over 60 homes

At least one person has died and 12 more are injured after a series of gas explosions wreaked havoc near Boston in the US.

Gas explosions set fire to between 60 and 80 homes and business in the suburbs on Thursday evening.

Teenager Leonel Rondon, 18, from Lawrence was killed when a chimney from an exploding house crashed into his car. He was rushed to hospital in Boston but later declared dead.

Twelve other people have been injured, including one firefighter, and they are being treated for burns and smoke inhalation at nearby hospitals.

Boston: multiple suspected gas blasts and fires have caused mass evacuations in the US city (AP)

Dramatic images showed firefighters on high ladders battling the flames that were engulfing homes in Lawrence and North Andover, towns about 25 miles north of Boston.

Aerial footage showed how homes had been ripped apart by the blasts.

Firefighters battle a fire in a house in Lawrence, Massachusetts, after ‘gas blasts’ (EPA)

Investigators believe the fires have been caused by “over-pressurisation of a gas main” belonging to Columbia Gas Lines.

Victim: Leonel Rondon

Andover Fire Rescue Chief Michael Mansfield described the chaos as “overwhelming” and said it resembled “Armaggedon.”

Flames burn through a home in Lawrence (AP)

“I have been in the fire service for almost 39 years and I have never seen anything like this in my entire career,” he said.

“There were billows of smoke coming from Lawrence behind me. I could see pillars of smoke in front of me from the town of Andover.”

Crews work at the scene of a fire in Lawrence (AP)

Police Chief Joseph Solomon said there are so many fires “you can’t even see the sky” as he updated locals on the situation. He said there are 20 to 25 homes alight in the Lawrence area alone.

In Lawrence, a man whose neighbourhood was among dozens that erupted in fire says he ran into his basement to find that the room was glowing.

Resident Ra Nam said he was in his yard when the smoke detector in his basement went off around 4.30pm local time on Thursday.

Residents flee their homes wearing protective gas masks (AP)

When he ran downstairs and saw the boiler on fire, he quickly grabbed a fire extinguisher and put it out.

Minutes later, Mr Nam said he heard a loud boom from his neighbour’s house and the ground shook.

Mr Nam said a woman and two children had made it out of the house but the basement was on fire.

Firefighters battle a large structure fire in Lawrence, Mass, a suburb of Boston (AP)

In North Andover, town selectman Phil Decologero said his entire neighbourhood had gathered in the street, afraid to enter their homes. Just a few streets down, he said, homes were burning.

“It’s definitely a scary situation at the moment,” he said. “It’s pretty severe.”

Witnesses said the explosions began at about 4.30pm in the US (8.30pm UK time).

Residents were being told to “evacuate their homes immediately if they have not done so” in affected areas who have gas service from Columbia Gas. All gas and electricity services in the affected areas have been cut off to prevent further chaos.

If residents who do not have service from Columbia smell gas in their home they were also urged to leave.

 

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

It said in a statement: “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.”

Firefighters battle a raging house fire in Lawrence (AP)

Its crews are still performing safety checks in the area.

Officials have alerted Holy Family Hospital in Methuen to expect multiple admissions, according to The Eagle Tribune.

An emergency operations centre has been set up at the Public Safety Complex in Andover.

Governor Charlie Baker said state and local authorities are investigating but that it could take days or weeks before they turn up answers.

“This is still very much an active scene,” he said.

“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.”

By late Thursday, all of the fires had been doused but many areas remained silent and dark after residents fled and after power companies cut electricity to prevent further fires.

Schools in all three communities were cancelled for Friday, and some schools were being used as shelters for residents.

Lawrence resident Bruce Razin was among the evacuees standing outside the Colonial Heights neighbourhood near the city’s high school trying to decide what to do next late Thursday.

Officials had cut power in the area and the streets were pitch black, save for emergency vehicle lights.

Mr Razin said he arrived just as residents were being evacuated, and immediately saw the house two doors down was levelled from an explosion.

“I couldn’t imagine if that was my house,” said Mr Razin, who purchased his home nearly two years ago. “It’s total destruction. I’d be completely devastated.”

In North Andover, town selectman Phil Decologero said his entire neighbourhood had gathered in the street, afraid to enter their homes. Just a few streets down, he said, homes were burning.

“It’s definitely a scary situation at the moment,” he said. “It’s pretty severe.”

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

“Lawrence is a very resilient community. We’re going to get through this together,” Mayor Dan Rivera told reporters as emergency lights illuminated smoke in the night sky nearby.

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