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All Blowed Up
Author: TriSec    Date: 09/15/2018 09:52:04

Good Morning.

It didn't get much national traction, but three communities north of Boston have been in the middle of a war zone for the last few days.

Late Thursday afternoon, something happened in Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence, and a pressure wave went through the local natural gas lines. 8,000 homes were affected, and about 80 of them blew up or caught fire.


Of course it was complete chaos. Pretty much all of Eastern Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire snapped to instant attention; mutual aid from all over both parts of the state flooded into the affected zone, and fortunately they were able to make quick work of the scenes. But there was still a casualty.

A man was killed in Lawrence during dozens of home explosions and fires caused by a Columbia Gas issue on Thursday.

Officials said Leonel Rondon, 18, was killed when the house at 35 Chickering Road exploded, and its chimney toppled onto the vehicle in which he was sitting.

"What happened in the Merrimack Valley yesterday was a tragic incident. We are saddened to learn of the death of a young man as a result of these events. Ourthoughts and continued support are with those who have been injured andaffected," Columbia Gas said in a statement.

A friend of Rondon described him as a brave, happy, humorous and caring person who always made sure his friends were OK.

Governor Charlie Baker visited the affected towns within hours, and he quickly declared a state of emergency. But not for the reasons you think. The company at the heart of the incident is Columbia Gas, and they turned out to be hopelessly incompetent.

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera publicly criticized Columbia Gas regarding the aftermath of a series of gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley Thursday.

"The least informed and the last to act have been Columbia Gas," Rivera said during heated remarks. "It just seems like there's no one in charge, they're in the weeds."

Rivera said officials from the gas company were "hiding."

"Columbia Gas is the only group that doesn't have a command center here," he said.

Describing their location, he added "There's a big gated fence in front of it."

Rivera called on Columbia Gas to hold a public meeting "no later than 4 o'clock today." {Thursday}

The mayor of Lawrence said Columbia "promised hundreds of teams of technicians, none of which materialized." He said Columbia "wasted last night, calling the other utilities to come in. My understanding is they didn't want to foot the bill for them to be here."

The day after the disaster, Rivera says neighbors who "watched houses blow up right next to them" are left afraid and without answers from their utility company.

"My very family is displaced," he said.

Gov. Charlie Baker, who spent the day in the Merrimack Valley touring the aftermath with his lieutenant governor, state emergency officials and local officials, also expressed concern with Columbia Gas.

"The follow through just wasn't there," Baker said.

He declared a state of emergency in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover. He brought in Eversource to take over the recovery efforts.

Andover Town Manager Andrew P. Flanagan said in a statement he applauds Baker's decision "to use the full force of his office."

Governor Baker used his emergency powers to appoint Eversource to oversee and coordinate the recovery effort, and to their credit they have come through in a way Columbia has not. But it's not going to be an easy fix, due to the magnitude of the event.

Frustrated by a lack of progress and responsiveness by Columbia Gas after a series of explosions killed a teenager and left dozens of homes in smoldering ruins across the Merrimack Valley, Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency, allowing him to appoint another utility company to oversee the restoration process.

Baker said Eversource would take the lead in getting the system stabilized and residents back home and online in affected parts of Lawrence, North Andover and Andover.

"Everybody needs to be patient while the utilities work this block-by-block," Baker said.

It won't be a quick process, and officials urged patience.

"This is not a short-term restoration effort," an Eversource spokesman said. "We’re talking weeks."

"The timeline to get the system restored, to get the gas stored is going to be a lengthy process," he said.

Now, we've only got a relatively minor incident, affecting three communities here in this Commonwealth. The political response was swift, and we have a well-defined system of mutual aid and support throughout the Greater Boston area. (I'm pretty sure we invented the thing.)

Hurricane Florence is on a much wider scale, but they are no less American than us hardy New Englanders. It will be interesting to compare and contrast the emergency responses as time goes on.


2 comments (Latest Comment: 09/15/2018 15:46:20 by BobR)
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