Man killed, 12 injured after 70 gas explosions, fires rock Lawrence, Andover, North Andover

LAWRENCE, MASS. (WHDH) - At least one person has died and 13 others were injured when as many as 70 gas-related explosions and fires rocked multiple homes and buildings in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover Thursday night, prompting officials to order widespread evacuations and establish emergency shelters.

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In the wake of the explosions, which were first reported around 5 p.m., all Columbia Gas customers in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover have been urged to evacuate immediately and National Grid has turned off power in all three communities.

Gov. Charlie Baker joined city officials from Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover during a 9 p.m. press conference to stress to area residents to leave their homes and seek shelter at one of the many emergency shelters that have been set up to handle the thousands of displaced.

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Crews are working to depressurize gas lines across the region but the process may take quite some time.

Lawrence police say a woman who was left trapped in a home on Chickering Road suffered leg injuries.

The Essex District Attorney’s Office said 18-year-old Leonel Rondon was killed when a chimney fell onto his car.

Andover town officials say at least four people were injured, including two firefighters and two civilians.

At the peak of the chaos, 18 fires were burning at the same time in Andover.

They have since been extinguished, as well as all fires in Lawrence and North Andover.

Video from Sky7 HD showed fires burning at multiple homes and buildings. One home appeared to be completely leveled and many others were seriously damaged. The total number of affected structures is expected to climb throughout the evening.

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera has ordered all residents to evacuate the southern section of the city.

Fire departments from across the region, including Boston, Methuen and New Hampshire, are responding to the impacted areas.

The Red Cross and FEMA are also responding.

All off-ramps along Interstate 495 between exits 41 and 45 have been closed until further notice. Service on the Haverhill commuter rail line has been temporarily suspended beyond North Wilmington Station.

Shelters have been set up at Lawrence High School, North Andover Middle School, and at the Andover Senior Center.

The Red Cross has set up three reception centers for people who have evacuated their homes:

• Parthum Elementary School- 255 East Haverhill St in Lawrence

• Arlington School, 150 Arlington St., Lawrence

• Field House at North Andover High School- 430 Osgood St. in N. Andover

• North Andover Middle School, 495 Main St., N. Andover

• Andover Cormier Youth Center- 40 Whittier Ct. in Andover

The MSPCA-Nevins Farm in Methuen has mobilized an emergency staff and phone number for any animals in affected towns who need shelter as a result of the explosions, fires. Anyone with an animal in need can either show up Thursday night at Nevins Farm at 400 Broadway in Methuen or call 978-687-7453.

Schools will be closed Friday in Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence as a result of the incident.

Baker has ordered all state offices in the community closed on Friday. Unless already notified, non-emergency executive branch employees who live or work in those communities should not report to their workplaces.

The cause of the apparent blasts was not immediately clear.

State police say a joint investigation will be conducted when the situation is stabilized.