Next phase of recovery following gas disaster calls for delivery of hot plates, space heaters

LAWRENCE, MASS. (WHDH) - Gov. Charlie Baker and other officials announced the next phase of recovery and replacement activities for the Greater Lawrence area Thursday in the wake of a gas disaster that forced thousands of people from their homes, injured dozens and left one man dead.

The replacement plan, which calls for restoring gas service to all of the more than 8,000 affected homes by Nov. 19, includes replacing the 48-mile cast iron and bare steel distribution system and delivering thousands of hot plates and space heaters to residents who are living without gas service.

In a statement issued Thursday, Columbia Gas officials said the aim of the massive project is to bring immediate help to those who need it most; replace and upgrading appliances and other natural gas equipment damaged in customers’ homes and businesses; and install a safe and modern energy system.

Columbia Gas announced that Navy Capt. Joe Albanese, Ret., Founder and CEO of Commodore Builders, a construction management firm, will serve as the Chief Recovery Officer for the massive project. He will be assisted by Rear Admiral Richard E. Cellon, Ret., President of Cellon and Associates.

Baker said the National Guard has been activated to support the delivery of nearly 7,000 hot plates to residents in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover beginning Saturday to customers who need them for cooking until gas service has been restored.

That will be followed by a similar distribution of 24,000 space heaters sometime next week.

Prior to the installation of the heaters, fire chiefs and electricians will have to certify that a dwelling is safe, meaning an inspection will have to be allowed.

Beginning Monday, dozens of Columbia Gas and contracted construction teams will begin replacing the 48-mile, cast iron, and bare steel distribution system with state-of-the-art infrastructure and safety features, according to the statement.

Meanwhile, local businesses have been trying to recover after days without power or gas.

“We threw out a lot of food, over $1,500 worth of food,” said James Zalaket, manager of Jim’s Kabob Express.

Jim’s Kabob Express in Lawrence is back up and running now. Zalaket says they were forced to close for four days after the gas fires and explosions, and that his hit him in the wallet.

“We made a claim with Columbia Gas for lost revenue and food spoilage,” Zalaket said.

They’re not alone.

At Carlos Cakes on South Union Street, the display cases are full of cakes and pastries once again.

“(A lot) of my inventory, I throw away,” said owner Carlos Alba.

There’s no gas on the street, but the power was out, so he had to clear out all of his pastries and cakes.

“204 cakes,” he said.

Alba is trying to keep a positive attitude about the whole situation.

“Humans make mistakes,” he said.