Electrician Matt Van Dyke was taking his dogs out when he heard what sounded like a bomb going off late Thursday afternoon.
Three doors down, a house had exploded, he told the Boston Herald. “I ran down the street and saw the house,” the 33 year old recalled. “I could not believe it. It was crazy. It was leveled. I saw a couple people coming out of there — I believe. They were all hobbling. They were messed up.”
What Van Dyke witnessed was one of a series of gas explosions that triggered 60 to 80 home fires on Thursday in three towns north of Boston — Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover — leaving one dead and over 25 injured.
“It looked like Armageddon, it really did,” Andover Fire Rescue chief Michael B. Mansfield told the CBS affiliate in Boston. “I have been in the fire service almost 39 years and I have never seen anything like this in my entire career.”
Thousands of people have been told not to return to their homes and businesses — some just piles of rubble — until officials determine they are safe.
Meanwhile, state and federal officials, including investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, are seeking answers for what caused the explosions.
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Unhappy with the response by Columbia Gas, the owner of the gas lines involved in the blasts, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker declared a State of Emergency on Friday and put another energy provider in charge of restoration efforts.
“We need to get on with this,” Baker said at a press conference regarding recovery efforts.
Columbia Gas president Steve Bryant defended his company’s response at a later press conference and said that they will cooperate with an investigation.
The issue that caused the explosions is reportedly related to gas meters that were fed by “overpressurized” distribution lines, the state’s top emergency management official said at a Friday news conference.
According to CBS Boston, some 8,500 gas meters in the region, served by Columbia Gas, were affected.
Just before one of the blasts Thursday evening, Leonel Rondon, 18, was sitting in the driver’s seat of a car parked in a Lawrence driveway, talking with three friends. Then the house exploded, sending the chimney into the car, reports The Boston Globe.
Rondon, who had just gotten his driver’s license, died later that night at Mass General Hospital.
“We heard a noise, then we felt it again and heard it,” Christian Caraballo, 19, who was in the car with Rondon, told the newspaper. “I seen the front of the house explode to the street.”
Also in Lawrence, Ra Nam was in his yard around 4:30 p.m. when his smoke detector went off, he told the Associated Press. When Nam ran into his basement, he saw that the boiler was on fire, and put it out with a fire extinguisher.
Soon after, Nam “heard a loud boom from his neighbor’s house and the ground shook,” according to the AP.
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Lawrence General Hospital officials said in a press conference they treated 13 people, with injuries ranging from minor to blast trauma and smoke inhalation.
With so many families displaced by the fires and explosions, and some completely losing everything, The Boston Globe and Boston 25 News have created lists of places for people to donate and help the families affected by the fires and explosions.
The area’s displaced animals have also not been forgotten: The MSPCA’s Nevins Farm has lent a hand, taking in dozens of cats and dogs and a bird.
“Sheltering until their families can return to their homes,” the account wrote alongside images of the abandoned pets.