LAWRENCE, Mass. - Investigators worked Friday to pinpoint the cause of a series of dramatic natural gas explosions that killed a teenager who had just gotten his driver’s license and was sitting in his car, injured at least 25 others and left dozens of homes in smoldering ruins.
Authorities said an estimated 8,000 people were displaced at the height of Thursday’s post-explosion chaos in three towns north of Boston that were rocked by the disaster. Most were still waiting, shaken and exhausted, to be allowed to return to their homes.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to help investigate, saying pipelines are within its jurisdiction.
The rapid-fire series of gas explosions that one official described as “Armageddon” ignited fires in 60 to 80 homes in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, forcing entire neighborhoods to evacuate as crews scrambled to fight the flames and shut off the gas and electricity.
Gas and electricity remained shut off Friday in most of the area, and entire neighborhoods were eerily deserted.
Authorities said Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, died after a chimney toppled by an exploding house crashed into his car. He was rushed to a Boston hospital and pronounced dead there Thursday evening.
Rondon, a musician who went by the name DJ Blaze, had just gotten his driver’s license, grieving friends and relatives told The Boston Globe. “It’s crazy how this happened,” said a friend, Cassandra Carrion.
The state Registry of Motor Vehicles said Rondon had been issued his driver’s license earlier Thursday.
Massachusetts State Police urged all residents with homes serviced by Columbia Gas in the three communities to evacuate, snarling traffic and causing widespread confusion as residents and local officials struggled to understand what was happening. Some 400 people spent the night in shelters, and school was canceled Friday as families waited to return to their homes.
Columbia Gas was sued in 2014 after a strip club was destroyed in a natural gas explosion two years earlier.
The November 2012 explosion in Springfield, Massachusetts, was caused when a Columbia employee accidentally punctured a gas line while probing for a leak. The blast leveled the Scores Gentleman’s Club, injuring about 20 people and damaging dozens of other buildings. The club owner and the gas company eventually settled the case.