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At least 1 dead in multiple fires, gas explosions in Massachusetts

CBS News logo CBS News 9/14/2018 CBSNews

Dozens of fires were reported in three communities north of Boston after a series of explosions from a high pressure gas main that possibly over-pressurized, officials said. At least one person has died, the Essex County district attorney's office said. 

The victim was identified as Leonel Robson, 18, of Lawrence. Robson was in a car in Lawrence when a chimney from a house explosion fell on the car, the DA said.

Lawrence General Hospital said they had received 13 patients, including one in critical condition who was transferred to Boston Trauma Center. The other 12 are stable.

Massachusetts State Police said there were 70 responses to fires, explosions and investigations of gas odor, with CBS Boston reporting there were 35 fires in Andover alone. All of those fires have been extinguished, but at peak, 18 fires were burning at the same time.

Massachusetts State Police say gas lines are currently being depressurized by the company, CBS Boston reports. Power has been shut off in the three communities as a precaution.

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera said in a press conference that 12-14 homes were directly impacted, and while they can't located a geographic area, if you have gas in your home, you should evacuate. Gov. Charlie Baker said 8,000 customers' power was affected.

"There's a lot more work that's left to be done," Baker said. "If you were to ask me to give a grade I think for all of this at this point it would be incomplete, there's a lot more to do."

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Hours after the explosions, Columbia issued a statement saying, "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."

Andover Fire-Rescue sent a 10-alarm response, the highest level.

"It looked like Armageddon, it really did," Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield said. "There were billows of smoke coming from Lawrence behind me, I could see plumes of smoke in front of me, within the town of Andover, it looked like an absolute war zone." 

Some homes were destroyed by fire, while others exploded.

Joseph Solomon, the police chief in nearby Methuen, responded to Lawrence to help and said there are so many fires burning that "you can't even see the sky."

Massachusetts State Police say gas lines are currently being depressurized by the company. CBS Boston reports that Columbia Gas was doing work in the area earlier on Thursday.

FBI agents are on the scene to assist local police in the investigation. "We are coordinating with our law enforcement partners as expected and personnel are on scene, as we normally would be in a situation like this to assess the situation," the FBI said in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed reporting. This is a developing story and will be updated.


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