'IT LOOKED LIKE ARMAGEDDON': Gas explosions destroy dozens of homes

Teenager killed as 'gas explosions' set homes ablaze

Nearly 40 fires and explosions erupt in Massachusetts

Fire investigators suspected "over-pressurization of a gas main" belonging to Columbia Gas of MA led to the series of explosions and fires, Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield told a news conference.

Eighteen-year-old Leonel Rondon was inside a auto in Lawrence, Massachusetts, when a chimney fell on the vehicle, said Carrie Kimball-Monahan, a spokeswoman with the Essex County District Attorney's office. He was rushed to a Boston hospital and pronounced dead there Thursday evening.

Residents in three communities north of Boston are being told to evacuate their homes after multiple explosions and fires in the area.

The State Police Fusion Center said the gas explosions and reports were "spread across a wide swath" of South Lawrence, North Andover and in North Lawrence.

Experts from state regulatory agencies, as well as federal officials from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Department of Transportation's Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration were on scene to investigate the incident.

She said she could see smoke rising from a structure on nearby Mount Vernon Street. "There will be plenty of time later tonight, tomorrow morning and into the next day to do some of the work around determining exactly what happened and why".

Late into Thursday, crews were still scrambling to shut off gas lines, officials said.

"Our thoughts are with everyone affected by today's incident", Indiana-based NiSource said in a statement. Safety is at the very core of the work we do as an industry and natural gas utilities work tirelessly to help ensure the safety of their customers, communities and employees.

Gov. Charlie Baker said state and local authorities were investigating but that it could take days or weeks before they turn up answers, acknowledging the "massive inconvenience" for those displaced by the explosions.

A spokesman for the Andover Police Department says residents in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover whose homes are serviced by Columbia Gas were urged to evacuate on Thursday afternoon.

The streets were darkened after nightfall as power was cut off to the area as a precaution. Lawrence General Hospital said it had treated 13 people for injuries ranging from smoke inhalation to blast trauma.

Emergency management officials believe over-pressurized gas lines triggered the fires, but investigators have yet to reveal an official cause, CBS News' Kenneth Craig reports.

According to a release from Columbia Gas, the company was upgrading natural gas lines in neighborhoods across the state, with a focus on enhanced safety features.

Columbia Gas CEO Steve Bryant said the company was "sorry" and "deeply concerned about the inconvenience", adding that he has no reason to take action against any employee at this point. The town of 35,000 residents is about 26 miles (40 kilometers) north of Boston near the New Hampshire border.

Massachusetts State Police said a total of 70 fires, explosions or investigations of gas odor had been reported.

About 120 people and their pets spent Thursday night at North Andover High School's Field House.

Arial footage of the area showed some homes that appeared to be torn apart by blasts. At one, the upper portion of a brick chimney crushed an SUV parked in the driveway.

ANDOVER - Dozens of explosions, apparently triggered by a natural gas pipeline rupture, rocked three communities near Boston on Thursday, injuring at least six people and prompting the evacuation of hundreds, local officials said. "We will get units out there".

Before gas explosions in MA sent its shares reeling on Friday, utility NiSource Inc (NI.N) was considered a secure play and its top investor was loading up on shares as part of a push into what it called "the safest, most defensive sector in the S&P 500".

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