Merrimack Valley gas explosions
|Date||September 13, 2018|
|Time||4:15 pm (Eastern Daylight Time)|
|Duration||2 hours 30 minutes (estimated)[a]|
|Location||Massachusetts, United States|
|Cause||Over-pressurized gas mains|
|Non-fatal injuries||25+ |
|Property damage||40 homes|
On September 13, 2018, excessive pressure in natural gas lines owned by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts caused a series of explosions and fires to occur in as many as 40 homes, with over 80 individual fires, in the Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts towns of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover. One person was killed and 30,000 were forced to evacuate their homes.
Fires and explosions
According to the NTSB's preliminary report, customers in the accident area received gas from a low-pressure (0.5 psi) distribution network which, in turn, was fed from a high-pressure (75 psi) main pipeline via regulators controlled by sensors measuring pressure in the low-pressure pipes. At the time of the accident, workers were replacing some of the low-pressure piping, but the procedure set out by Columbia Gas for doing this failed to include transfer of a regulator's pressure sensor from the old, disused piping to the new. As a result, when the old pipe was depressurized, the regulator sensed zero pressure on the low-pressure side and opened completely, feeding the main pipeline's full pressure into the local distribution network. Within minutes, buildups of natural gas were causing explosions and fires in houses across Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.
Multiple explosions and fires were reported over a very short period of time in the towns of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover beginning about 4:15 pm (EDT). Through the evening emergency crews responded to between 40 and 80 fires. At one time, as many as 18 fires were burning at once, and Andover officials struck a maximum 10-alarm response.
Andover's fire chief described "billows of smoke coming from Lawrence behind me, I could see plumes of smoke in front of me within the town of Andover, it just looked like an absolute war zone." A Lawrence resident described finding his boiler on fire after his smoke alarm went off; as he was extinguishing it he heard a boom from a neighbor's house and the ground shook. All of the fires were put out by 6:45 pm.
Once it was realized that the fires were being caused by over-pressurized gas mains, residents whose gas is supplied by Columbia Gas were told to evacuate their homes. There is no indication that foul play was involved. Gas services for approximately 8,000 residents was shut off; electricity to portions of the three communities was also interrupted to avoid igniting any lingering gas.
Thousands of people were told to shut off their gas service and evacuate their homes. In Lawrence, Mayor Dan Rivera urged residents in the city to move north of the Merrimack River. Schools and senior citizen centers were opened up in all three areas to take in the evacuees, and hotels offered shelter as well. The number of people evacuating by vehicle soon caused gridlock on streets that were already experiencing congestion by the afternoon rush hour commute. Merrimack College evacuated its buildings temporarily. Schools and state offices in the three communities remained closed the following day. First responders from as far away as Boston and Manchester, New Hampshire rushed to Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover as gas and electric lines were shut off to prevent further explosions.
The NTSB also sent a team to investigate the situation the following day stating that they were going to look at the design of the pipeline system, maintenance associated with it, the emergency response, and the integrity management system of Columbia Gas. The gas company involved released several updates about the fires and explosions through their website. The updates expressed sympathy over the "tragic incident" and the resulting death, as well as directing readers to shelters, and how to remain safe throughout the incident. Governor Baker, and Lawrence mayor Dan Rivera were later heavily critical of the response issued by Columbia Gas.
On September 14, 2018, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency and appointed Eversource to evaluate and oversee the management of the gas distribution system in the affected area. While some residents remained in emergency shelters or stayed in hotels or with friends and family, others were gradually able to return to homes and businesses. Officials entered each building with the help of a locksmith if necessary, inspected for trapped gas, and ensured that the gas line from the street was turned off. Officials posted lists of streets that had been cleared, and electricity was gradually restored to cleared buildings. Inspections were complete and electricity to all affected areas was restored by Sunday, September 16. Some gas-dependent businesses, such as laundromats and restaurants, remained unable to open.
Restoration of gas service to the 8,600 affected customers requires replacement of about 48 miles (77 km) of gas pipeline, which Columbia Gas expected to accomplish by November 19, 2018. As the company started hiring about 200 temporary workers for the recovery effort, on September 22, National Guard troops began delivering about 7,000 hot plates to customers to temporarily replace gas stoves for cooking. There were plans to deliver about 24,000 space heaters before cold weather arrives, with Columbia Gas paying the increased electrical bills, but no plans to make up for lack of hot showers due to disabled water heaters. The company also withdrew a $33 million rate increase which was scheduled to take effect on November 1, 2018.
In late October, the company pushed back the expected completion date to December 16. Replacement of gas mains was proceeding ahead of schedule, but some older houses were unable to accommodate newer appliances and required more work to upgrade them to current standards.
- The duration time reflects when the fires/explosions were first reported to the time when all of the fires were put out
- Tim Stelloh and Tom Winter (September 13, 2018). "Gas explosion in Massachusetts leaves one dead". NBC News. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
- "1 dead after Columbia Gas pressure issue leaves homes leveled, burned". WCVB Boston. Retrieved September 13, 2018.
- Vanessa Romo. "Multiple Explosions And Fires Reported Across 3 Mass. Towns, At Least 10 Injured". NPR. Retrieved September 13, 2018.
- CNN, Nicole Chavez,. "Homes burn in 3 Massachusetts towns after suspected gas explosions". CNN. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
- Chantal Da Silva. "Boston Deadly Gas Explosion Latest: Everything to Know About 'Armageddon' Blast". Newsweek. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
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- "More than 30 homes catch fire after natural gas issues north of Boston; 4 injured". USA Today. Retrieved September 13, 2018.
- NTSB (October 10, 2018). "Preliminary Report Pipeline: Over-pressure of a Columbia Gas of Massachusetts Low-pressure Natural Gas Distribution System". Retrieved October 21, 2018.
- Korte, Gregory (October 11, 2018). "Massachusetts natural gas explosions: Feds say Columbia Gas issued faulty work orders". USA Today.
- "'It just looked like an absolute war zone': Andover crews respond to 38 fires after suspected gas main explosion". masslive.com. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
- "'It Looked Like Armageddon': 1 Dead After Gas Explosions, Fires". CBS. September 14, 2018. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
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- "Panicked neighborhoods evacuate as gas blasts destroy homes". Retrieved September 14, 2018.
- "Multiple fires, gas explosions in Lawrence, Mass. area". Retrieved September 14, 2018.
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- Malone, Scott. "Suspected gas explosions rock towns near Boston, forcing evacuations". U.S. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
- Darrah, Nicole (September 13, 2018). "Massachusetts suspected gas explosions hits dozens of homes and buildings, officials say". Fox News. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
- "Dozens of houses burn, explode after Columbia Gas pressure issue". WCVB. September 14, 2018. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
- "Gas Explosions Rock Lawrence, Andover, N. Andover". Lowell Sun. September 14, 2018. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
- Melissa Hanson (September 13, 2018). "Salem Waterfront Hotel offering remaining occupancy to anyone whose home was affected by fires, explosions in Lawrence and North Andover". MassLive. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
- Lisa Kashinsky lkashinsky (September 14, 2018). "Confusion reigns for fire, gas explosion evacuees". The Eagle Tribune. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
- Nicole Chavez and Ray Sanchez (September 14, 2018). "'It looked like Armageddon': Homes burn in Massachusetts towns after suspected gas explosions". CNN. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
- "Incident in Lawrence". www.columbiagasma.com. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
- Jordan Graham & Sean Philip Cotter (September 15, 2018). "Gov. Charlie Baker, Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera decry Columbia Gas' response to crisis". Boston Herald. Retrieved September 15, 2018.
- "State Of Emergency Declared; Lawrence Mayor Says Gas Company 'Hiding From The Problem'". September 14, 2018. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
- UPDATE: More Andover, North Andover residents going home; Lawrence still in holding pattern
- Pressure inside Columbia Gas pipes was 12 times higher than normal
- Matt Rocheleau; Milton Valencia (September 20, 2018). "Gas company's plan for speedy replacement work raises safety fears". The Boston Globe.
- National Guard members are delivering hot plates to residents in Lawrence
- Lisa Creamer; Quincy Walters (October 2, 2018). "Columbia Gas Pushes Back Deadline To Restore Service To Those Affected By Explosions". WBUR-FM.