LAWRENCE, Mass. (WWLP) – Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has declared a State of Emergency for the Merrimack Valley communities affected by Thursday’s gas explosions, which left a young man dead, dozens injured, and several homes damaged or destroyed.
The explosions were reported in the Columbia Gas-served communities of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover Thursday afternoon. Kurt Schwartz, head of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said firefighters were called to 60-80 structure fires in the three affected communities on Thursday.
The governor and Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera criticized Columbia Gas’ response efforts during a Friday afternoon news conference.
Columbia Gas released updates Friday morning and afternoon, saying their crews need to visit each of the 8,600 affected customers to shut off each gas meter and conduct a safety inspection.
“We expect this will be an extended restoration effort, and we will work tirelessly to restore service to the affected customers,” the company wrote.
The governor, however, said what’s been promised and what’s actually happened doesn’t line up.
“As the mayor said, there was a series of commitments that were made with respect to what was going to happen between 7 o clock this morning and 3 o clock this afternoon,” Baker said. “And the performance relative to those representations has been so far below what was talked about this morning that it raised major issues in our mind about the leadership team’s ability there to actually deliver for the people of Massachusetts.”
The governor’s declaration of emergency has allowed him to put Eversource in charge of the response instead.
“I applaud Governor Baker’s decision to use the full force of his office to support the repair and restoration efforts in the Merrimack Valley. People want to go back to their homes, and I am confident that this is a giant step in the right direction,” Andover Town Manager Flanagan said. “Our attempts to work closely with Columbia Gas during this crisis have been met with little more than phone calls unreturned and questions unanswered.”
The National Transportation Safety Board announced Friday that it is sending a full “go-team” to Massachusetts to investigate the series of gas explosions. The federal agency will work with local and state agencies in their investigation.
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said their investigation team will be looking at everything from the design of the natural gas pipeline to recent maintenance and upgrades.
Sumwalt said that the NTSB’s role is to determine what happened and to prevent it from happening again.
WEB EXTRA: NTSB news conference
Governor Charlie Baker asked residents not to return to their homes. When residents are allowed to return to their homes, they are urged not to turn on gas services themselves.
Eversource has sent 133 people, two emergency communications trailers and a mobile command unit to the Merrimack Valley to help the aftermath efforts.
The American Red Cross has set up shelters for the customers who have been forced to evacuate their homes:
- Arlington School, 150 Arlington Street, Lawrence
- Parthum School, 255 Haverhill Street, Lawrence
- North Andover High School, 430 Osgood Street, North Andover
- Cormier Youth Center, 40 Whittier Court, Andover
According to Columbia Gas, the shelters will accommodate pets. MSPCA’s Nevins Farm in Methuen is also taking in pets.
“Please do not leave animals behind,” Massachusetts State Police said. “Any displaced residents who need a place for their animals to stay while their own housing situation is resolved may bring them to Nevins, which is located at 400 Broadway in Methuen.”
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno has directed city leaders to set up a meeting with Columbia Gas in the near future to reassure residents of their continued maintenance efforts to keep everyone safe in Springfield.
Sarno has also reached out to Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera to offer support in the event he needs any help:
“Dan, thinking of you and your residents. Reaching out to see if there’s something you might need. Having gone through a number of natural and man-made disasters – though it might not be on your mind right now, please have your staff document response expenses for any possible assistance from Fed’s and State for when you start the rebuild. You and your residents are in my thoughts and prayers for good health, resiliency and encouragement. Godspeed to you all. Respectfully, Mayor Domenic J. Sarno”