NTSB sending ‘go-team’ to investigate Merrimack Valley gas emergency

Saul Bowman
September 15, 2018

"Senators Markey and Warren are asking to hear from regulators and the distribution company Columbia Gas to understand how this incident occurred and what must be done to ensure these types of unsafe accidents do not happen again", according to a joint news release. Our thoughts and continued support are with those who have been injured and affected.

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. A company spokeswoman did not immediately provide comment.

An investigation is underway into why a gas line caused massive explosions and fires in the Merrimack Valley.

Gas service was interrupted for 250 customers in Lawrence last month "due to hit line by a third party", according to Columbia Gas.

State officials said Columbia Gas was working to ease pressure on gas lines following the fires.

State Police troopers and local police are helping evacuate residents.

Leonel Robson, who was sitting in his driveway when a chimney fell on his vehicle, was killed after the explosions rocked the suburban towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.

Columbia Gas was sued in 2014 after a strip club was destroyed in a natural gas explosion two years earlier.

Ra Nam (right), with his sons Evan (left) and Tristan (center), wait in a parking lot outside their Colonial Heights neighborhood in Lawrence, Mass., which was evacuated Thursday because of the fires and explosions.

Frank Lupa, a 79-year-old retiree in Lawrence, spent the night in a middle school along with other dislodged residents, and said he prayed as chaos descended on his neighborhood.

At least three people, including one firefighter, were hurt in Andover, the town said in a statement.

Lawrence Police Chief Roy Vasque told the paper one home in the area had been "demolished" by a blast.

Fire crews from around MA and Southern New Hampshire worked together Thursday to extinguish the dozens of fires that broke out throughout the afternoon and evening.

No additional gas-related emergencies had been reported on Friday.

Chief Keefe notes that police resources from throughout Massachusetts have responded to Andover, including the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC) Rapid Response Team, the NEMLEC Motor Unit, and the Massachusetts State Police. Columbia Gas has been upgrading its gas system across the state.

Dozens of homes were reported to have caught fire in several northern MA towns on Thursday after a series of suspected gas explosions.

By 7:00pm local time, officials in Andover said all fires in the town had been extinguished.

The explosions even forced evacuations in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, Massachusetts State Police said, adding that not all gas had been shut off by Thursday evening and some of the lines were overpressurised.

The blasts appear to be pipeline explosions, the National Transportation Safety Board said Friday in a briefing.

One incident may have been prevented by a State Police helicopter crew.

Around the same time, State Police said electricity was being shut off for all residents in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover, where some were still reporting an odour tied to natural gas.

Tactical flight officer and Trooper Eric Fairchild was monitoring the aircraft's forward looking infrared camera "when he observed an anomaly under the pavement at the intersection of Broadway and Andover St". Some 50 fire departments responded to the emergency, said John McArdle, fire chief of Plaistow, New Hampshire, which sent a tower ladder and engine crew to the scene.

The mayor of Lawrence requested that all those living in the southern zone of his town leave their homes ahead of the planned power shutdown.

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