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One killed, dozens injured and hundreds evacuated after string of explosions and fires in north Massachusetts

14 September 2018

At least one person has been killed and at least 25 injured after a series of gas explosions in towns north of Boston on the evening of September 13. Officials said many explosions and up to 80 fires broke out in the towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, thought to have been caused by the overpressurisation of a gas main belonging to Columbia Gas of Massachusetts.

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Hundreds of people were evacuated, with gas and electricity services cut to prevent further incidents. The utility outages affected around 18,000.

Andover Fire Rescue Chief Michael Mansfield described it as an "overwhelming event" that resembled "Armageddon", adding that investigators suspected the fires were caused by over-pressurisation of a gas main.

Columbia Gas, part of the NiSource group, said gas technicians were going door-to-door with police and firefighters in the affected areas to check individual property safety. Officials said early on September 14 they were confident there would be no further fires.

One man was killed inside a car in Lawrence when a chimney fell on his vehicle after a house explosion, and two others in the car were hospitalised. Officials said at least 25 people were injured.

Lawrence General Hospital received 10 patients, one of whom was in critical condition and one listed as serious, a spokeswoman said.

Earlier in the day, Columbia Gas issued a press release saying it was upgrading natural gas lines in neighbourhoods across the state, with a focus on enhanced safety features. Lawrence, Andover and North Andover were included in the upgrade.

The State Fire Marshal's Office, the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident.

Update: USA Today reported on September 15 that at least three other serious explosions in Massachusetts, West Virginia and Ohio have been linked to Columbia Gas.

A technician who punctured a gas line was found to be to blame for a 2012 blast in Springfield, Massachusetts, that destroyed a nightclub and damaged nearly a dozen other buildings and injured 17 people.

In West Virginia, the NTSB identified major safety issues when a Columbia Gas pipeline that had not been inspected or tested since the late 1980s corroded and ruptured, destroying three homes. In Ohio, an investigation revealed an "improperly abandoned" service line was responsible for an explosion that caused millions in property damage.

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