Residents allowed to return to homes after gas explosions

Lawrence MA-9/13/2018- Workers stage at Columbia Gas of Massachusetts in Lawrence. Topic Reporter

There's no evidence to suggest the gas explosions that rocked communities north of Boston were intentional, a federal investigator said Saturday.

Baker said Eversource would replace Columbia Gas of MA on the same day he warned stunned residents of the towns that the return to normalcy could take time following blasts Thursday that set homes ablaze, forced evacuations and left one person dead. Hundreds of natural gas technicians were to descend on the towns in the coming days to restore gas service safely before electricity could be turned on, state officials said.

A technician who punctured a gas line was to blame for this 2012 blast in Springfield that destroyed a nightclub and damaged almost a dozen other buildings and injured 17 people. Thousands were evacuated, and 18,000 people lost power at one point.

Firefighters and gas workers returned Saturday morning to a commercial area on the south side of Lawrence where they were seen opening manholes, testing gas levels and trying to gain access to businesses.

Investigators suspected the fires were caused by "over-pressurisation of a gas main" belonging to Columbia Gas lines. Leonel Rondon, 18, and two of his friends were in the vehicle when the debris struck, his family told CNN affiliate WHDH. "I often say the people of MA are resilient and this devastating situation is no exception", said Baker. Declaring a state of emergency gave the state authority to decide who would oversee the response, he said.

Rivera also said all routes into and out of Lawrence are open.

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Government records reveal at least three other serious explosions in Massachusetts, West Virginia and OH that are all linked to Columbia Gas.

The Red Cross reported Friday that about 400 people were staying in shelters.

"We're very interested to understand the operations of Columbia Gas", he said.

Utility President Steve Bryant later defended the company's performance, saying the company had remained in constant touch with state and federal officials.

Investigators expect to be on site up to ten days.

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