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Dozens Of Explosions In 3 Massachusetts Towns


Federal officials are trying to figure out what caused a series of fiery explosions in three towns north of Boston. Yesterday evening, officials responded to at least 70 house fires, explosions or reports of gas odors around the towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover. Here's Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera late last night.


DAN RIVERA: Be patient. Just don't come back to your homes until we ask you to come back to your homes. We want a situation where you come back where you - there's no threat to yourself or your loved ones. We're not sure that that's going to be anytime soon.

MARTIN: One person died in these explosions. At least 10 have been injured. Crews from Columbia Gas Utility were updating natural gas lines when the explosions happened, and officials urged customers in the area to evacuate. Fred Thys of member station WBUR in Boston is covering this story and joins us now.

Fred, I understand you were out there last night. What was the situation?

FRED THYS, BYLINE: I was, Rachel. I was up in the city of Lawrence. That is about an hour north of Boston with no traffic. It's a city of about 80,000 people, a largely Latino community. Spanish is the main language you hear on the streets there. And the power was cut all over the city. Police were in intersections to direct traffic, and people were standing in front of their homes. I was at the command center in a parking lot of an old strip mall, and there was just gridlock with all the emergency vehicles that were staging out of there. They had come from all over eastern Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

MARTIN: Any idea how many homes or buildings were damaged?

THYS: The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency says 60 to 80 structure fires in the city of Lawrence and in the towns of Andover and North Andover. And they say there were three explosions.

MARTIN: So I mentioned in the intro that Columbia Gas Utility was updating natural gas lines when these explosions happened. Did - is there a causal link there? Do we know at this point?

THYS: They really don't know for sure. It does remain unclear exactly what caused these blasts. Columbia Gas has not said what went wrong. The state fire marshal's office has said that the fires followed a high-pressure gas main explosion. And state emergency management officials said that possible gas line over-pressurization could be the source of the explosions. Federal investigators, as you pointed out, are taking the lead now. Those are from two agencies - the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

MARTIN: We mentioned that people were encouraged to evacuate. Have you been able to talk to anybody who lives in those areas?

THYS: So I was at this command center in Lawrence, and so I wasn't able to talk to anybody. But my colleague Quincy Walters did talk to some folks in North Andover. He was at a high school shelter there. And he - you know, they were telling him that they really had nowhere else to go because, you know, when you evacuate an entire town, you can't stay with your friends - right? - or your family.

MARTIN: Right.

THYS: And so folks were staying in the shelter.

MARTIN: OK. Well, we will keep following it. Investigators trying to figure out what caused this series of explosions that happened in three towns north of Boston. We've been talking with Fred Thys of member station WBUR in Boston, who's been covering it.

Fred, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

THYS: Glad to do it, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.