Columbia Gas damage claim lines frustrate Merrimack Valley residents

LAWRENCE, MASS. (WHDH) - Hundreds of Merrimack Valley residents affected by Thursday’s deadly gas explosions and fires will return to long lines Tuesday to file claims with Columbia Gas after being turned away.

Long lines frustrated families trying to file claims for items like food and medicine Sunday and Monday, with many of them handed tickets and told to return Wednesday due to the volume of requests.

“I took off today for this,” resident Richard Oellrich said. “Now I got to make arrangements to take off tomorrow to do this all over again. So yeah, very frustrating.”

The claims center, located at 1 Market St., opened at 9 a.m. Tuesday and will remain open until 9 p.m.

Gov. Charlie Baker and local leaders worked together to set up a relief fund to help victims get through the months ahead.

RELATED: Foundation being set up for victims of gas explosions

“The way we think about is donations coming to that relief fund and then work through that application and then an intake process,” Baker explained.

The National Transportation Safety Board continues investigating the increased pressure that caused the deadly blasts, focusing on pressure sensors connected to a gas line at an intersection.

RELATED: Senators: Pipe pressure before Merrimack Valley gas explosions was 12 times too high

Investigators say the line was being taken out of service shortly before the deadly explosions.

Leonel Rondon, 18, was killed when a Lawrence home exploded and the attached chimney crushed his SUV.

People who have a home to return to will be without gas for weeks, officials said.

“I try to keep my faith and positive and not be negative must encourage and support each other,” Lawrence resident Mary Jane Lewis said.

Officials warned residents not to turn gas meters back on themselves, not to turn on gas appliances until service is restored and to call 911 and leave their homes if they smell gas.

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