A series of gas explosions set fires in more than 20 homes in three communities north of Boston on Thursday, forcing entire neighborhoods to evacuate as crews struggle to put out the flames and shut down gas and electricity lines in an attempt to prevent further hurt.
Massachusetts state police say patrol boats have been sent to Lawrence, Andover and North Andover to secure the area and help resolve traffic jams on the roads while residents in panic attempt to flee their neighborhoods in the middle of the rush hour pm.
Joseph Solomon, the chief of police in nearby Methuen, said that 20 to 25 houses were on fire in Lawrence. Solomon, who responded to Lawrence to help, said there are so many fires that "you can not even see the sky."
The cause was not clear immediately. The Columbia Gas company had previously announced on Thursday that it would modernize gas lines in neighborhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions occurred. It was not clear if the work was happening there on Thursday, and a spokeswoman did not comment immediately.
Local officials in Andover are advising all residents and businesses to evacuate and shut off their gas, if they know how to do it safely. The city of 35,000 residents is about 26 miles (40 kilometers) north of Boston, near the border with New Hampshire.
In neighboring North Andover, Councilman Phil Decologero said that his entire neighborhood had gathered on the street, afraid to enter the houses. He warned anyone with concern to leave their homes and head to North Andover High School, which is establishing itself as a meeting point.
"It's definitely a scary situation right now," he said. "It's quite severe."
Entire neighborhoods were being evacuated in Lawrence. Councilman Marc Laplante said authorities were disconnecting power and urging residents of the Colonial Heights neighborhood to head to Parthum's elementary and middle schools.
"People need to leave this area safely, and it's really difficult because the traffic at this time is horrendous," he said.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency said staff members were going to Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, along with state fire investigators.