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1 dead, several injured after gas explosions in MA

1 dead, several injured after gas explosions in MA

An 18-year-old Lawrence man, Leonel Rondon, died when one explosion knocked over a chimney that fell on his vehicle, a spokeswoman at Massachusetts General Hospital said. A hospital spokesperson told CNN one person is in critical condition, and another patient is listed as serious.

About 8,000 residents from three towns north of Boston, Massachusetts are forbidden from returning to their homes after gas explosions on Thursday destroyed homes and caused dozens of injuries, including one death.

Gov. Charlie Baker said 10 other people were injured Thursday in a series of fires and explosions that authorities blame on over-pressurized natural gas lines.

Andover, North Andover and Lawrence projects were included.

Evacuations are now underway, forcing entire neighbourhoods to clear the area as crews scramble to douse the flames and shut off gas and electric lines in an attempt to prevent further damage. A middle school in North Andover and a senior center in Andover were set up for evacuees, according to state police.

State police put the tally of fires and explosions at 70, up from the 39 initially reported.

Kurt Schwartz, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said, "How long is it going to take?"

Fire investigators suspect "over-pressurization of a gas main" led to the series of blasts and fires, Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield said at a news conference. That directed 20 fire engines and 10 fire ladder trucks to the Town of Andover plus the town's entire fire department. Ten people were being treated at Lawrence General Hospital, spokeswoman Jill McDonald Halsey said. The blasts also left more than 18,000 homes and businesses without power.

Gas utilities have come under heightened scrutiny in recent years for an aging network of pipelines that critics say are not being properly inspected and maintained, posing a growing risk to public safety.

"We will begin putting together our investigative teams and establishing our investigative protocols, looking at the design of the pipeline system and any maintenance and upgrades in the process of being done", said the NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt.

Columbia Gas was been fined $100,000 by the state for a variety of safety violations since 2010, including $35,000 in 2016 for failing to follow company and pipeline safety regulations when responding to an outage and repairing a leak in Taunton.

The newspaper reported that some neighborhoods were being evacuated. There were reports that the company was trying to depressurize its lines in the area. "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 Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement. 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.

Officials again stressed that residents allowed back into their homes would still be without power and must not turn their gas back on themselves, but rather call Columbia Gas for an appointment.

Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon told USA Today there are so many fires, "you can't even see the sky".

- A 2011 natural gas explosion killed five people in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and that state's largest gas utility was fined by regulators who called the company's safety record "downright alarming".