Thousands are out of their homes in the Merrimack Valley after explosions rocked at least 70 homes across Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover.
Authorities believe over-pressurized gas lines are to blame for explosions and fires that ignited chaos Thursday afternoon. Firefighters struck ten alarms as they battled the fires, with 18 raging at once.
Scaused one death. A young man named Leonel was killed when an explosion caused a chimney to fall on his car in #Lawrence. Thinking of all those affected, and especially his family, this morning.
Gas explosions and fires ripped through the #MerrimackValley, and sadly caused one death. A young man named Leonel was killed when an explosion caused a chimney to fall on his car in #Lawrence. Thinking of all those affected, and especially his family, this morning. pic.twitter.com/l89rfgzOdF
— MichelleReneeFisher (@Michelle_WBZ) September 14, 2018
Full list of streets in Andover/North Andover/Lawrence affected by the #MAgasfires at this link. Every individual home on this street will be visited by emergency crews to determine its safety. They don’t know how long it will take.
5:15am update from @ColumbiaGasMA:
– This will be an extended restoration effort
– Working with authorities to investigate and find a cause for the explosions
– Warning customers who turned gas off, not to turn it back on and wait for instructions
– Shelter information below pic.twitter.com/LAMJQybgXR
— Chris McKinnon (@chrisWBZ) September 14, 2018
“It looked like Armageddon, it really did,” Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield told reporters. “There were billows of smoke coming from Lawrence behind me. I could see pillars of smoke in front of me from the town of Andover.”
People from 8000 homes near #Boston have been evacuated from three places in the #MerrimackValley after too much pressure in their gas supply caused more than 70 explosions and fires https://t.co/w2q2F6FnqY
— Shan Kelly (@Sandyshark) September 14, 2018
On Thursday night, the National Transportation Safety Board announced that it would be sending a “Go-Team” to Lawrence.
The purpose of the “Go-Team” is to begin investigating a major accident at the scene as quickly as possible.
But why is the NTSB involved?
The NTSB has a special group of staff that make up the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Division. According to the NTSB:
The Pipeline staff investigates accidents occurring during the transport of natural gas or other hazardous liquids, such as gasoline or propane, through pipeline systems and accidents in which public safety is threatened by the release of hazardous substances. The Division investigates all pipeline accidents in which there is a fatality, substantial property damage, or significant environmental impact.”
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt held a media availability before the “Go-Team” departed for Lawrence.
The team is expected to arrive in Lawrence around noon Friday. Once the team arrives, they will meet with the incident commanders. Investigators will be looking at the design of the pipeline and any maintenance being done. The team will do a review of Columbia Gas and the safety plan of the pipeline operator.
Officials had cut power in the area and the streets were pitch black, save for emergency vehicle lights. Razin said he arrived just as residents were being evacuated, and immediately saw the house two doors down was leveled from an explosion.
“I couldn’t imagine if that was my house,” said Razin, who purchased his home nearly two years ago. “It’s total destruction. I’d be completely devastated.”
With a backpack filled with personal items he had hastily grabbed, he said he’d head to his mother’s home a few towns over for the night.
In Lawrence, a man whose neighborhood was among dozens that erupted in fire says he ran into his basement to find that the room was glowing. Resident Ra Nam says he was in his yard when the smoke detector in his basement went off around 4:30 p.m. EDT Thursday.
When he ran downstairs and saw the boiler on fire, he quickly grabbed a fire extinguisher and put it out. Minutes later, Nam said he heard a loud boom from his neighbor’s house and the ground shook. Nam said a woman and two kids had made it out of the house but the basement was on fire.
Lawrence General Hospital said it was treating 10 victims, including at least one in critical condition.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency blamed the fires on gas lines that had become over-pressurized but said investigators were still examining what happened.
Columbia had announced earlier Thursday that it would be upgrading gas lines in neighborhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions happened. It was not clear whether work was happening there Thursday, and a spokeswoman did not return calls.
Reached by phone, some local officials described scenes of panic as residents rushed to evacuate, many wondering if their homes would be next to erupt in flames. In North Andover, town selectman Phil Decologero said his entire neighborhood had gathered in the street, afraid to enter their homes. Just a few streets down, he said, homes were burning.
“It’s definitely a scary situation at the moment,” he said. “It’s pretty severe.”
Aerial footage of the area showed some homes that appeared to be torn apart by blasts. At one, the upper portion of a brick chimney crushed an SUV parked in the driveway.
Joseph Solomon, the police chief in nearby Methuen, said 20 to 25 homes were on fire in Lawrence when he responded to help. He said there are so many fires “you can’t even see the sky.”
The three communities house more than 146,000 residents about 26 miles (40 kilometers) north of Boston, near the New Hampshire border. Lawrence, the largest of them, is a majority Latino city with a population of about 80,000.
9:45 a.m.: MassDOT says off-ramps at exits 41 through 44 on Interstate 495 remain closed. Exit 45 on Interstate 93 is closed as well.
9:34 a.m.: Inspectors are leaving color-coded cards on houses that caught fire in Andover alerting residents to its condition and if it has been determined safe to live in.
If your house was one of the 35+ that experienced a fire yesterday, inspectors are leaving color-coded cards on the door to determine occupancy. Building inspector Chris Clemente has multiple inspectors working these 35+ houses. pic.twitter.com/ogBSurpwhR
— Andover Police (@AndoverMassPD) September 14, 2018
Their phone lines are swamped. Number provided is the only line given
— Andover Police (@AndoverMassPD) September 14, 2018
we are working on it. it has to be hand-typed. We have nearly 415 streets to filter through. We will post the link once it's on https://t.co/7YsSzdZVOg
— Andover Police (@AndoverMassPD) September 14, 2018
Town Manager Andrew P. Flanagan, Police Chief Patrick Keefe and Fire Chief Michael B. Mansfield report that certain town residents are clear to return home at this time.
1. Residents SOUTH of the intersection of Rt. 28 and Salem Street (toward North Reading) may return home at this time. They are not in the affected area.
2. Residents NORTH of Rt. 28 at Salem Street(toward Lawrence and the Merrimack River) should remain out of their homes at this time. A total of 20 teams, each consisting of a police officer, firefighter and natural gas technician will be going house-to-house to 1,800 affected natural gas customers in this area to verify that the gas meters are shut off, or to shut them off. The gas service will not be restored until the gas company determines it is safe to do so.
3. Residents in the unaffected zone (South of Rt. 28/Salem Street) but turned off your gas service manually, LEAVE IT OFF until a gas technician can come to your home and restore service properly.
The Town of Andover has made facilities available to residents displaced by today’s gas emergency and resulting fires. The Andover Senior Center and Youth Center, located at 30 Whittier Court are open to displaced residents.
An estimated 8,000 people across Andover, North Andover and Lawrence have been displaced by today’s incident.
National Grid has cut off the power to a portion of town. Power will be restored as soon as the utility companies determine it is safe to do so.
Andover Public Schools are closed Friday, and after-school activities are cancelled.
“Ensuring safety in the area and protecting residents is the highest priority at this time,” Town Manager Flanagan said. “This is a major event, and I want to thank our first responders and residents for their teamwork as we prepare to begin the recovery process.”
All fires in Andover had been extinguished as of 6:45 p.m. Three people were injured in Andover as a result of this incident, including two firefighters and one civilian. Six additional civilians who could not safely evacuate from their homes have been transported to Lawrence General Hospital for treatment for pre-existing medical conditions.
Town Manager Flanagan has been in regular communication with Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera and North Andover Town Manager Andrew Maylor as well as Governor Charlie Baker and officials from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
At 5:01 p.m., Andover Fire Rescue struck a 10-alarm response, its maximum traditional fire response. That directed 20 fire engines and 10 fire ladder trucks to the Town of Andover plus the town’s entire fire department. However, a lot of those resources were diverted by concurrent 10-alarm situations in Lawrence and North Andover. (In fact, many of the units directed to respond to Andover were North Andover and Lawrence fire units that were already responding to emergencies in their communities.)
Chief Michael Mansfield requested through MEMA, two additional fire task forces to respond to Andover. This sent an additional 20 engines and ladder trucks total to Andover. Chief Mansfield also requested an ambulance task force, sending 10 ambulances to Andover.
A total of 38 active fires in Andover were put out during today’s emergency, with 18 fires burning simultaneously at the peak of the incident. Firefighters also responded to 17 gas leaks.
Chief Keefe notes that police resources from throughout Massachusetts responded to Andover, including the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC) Rapid Response Team, the NEMLEC Motor Unit, and the Massachusetts State Police. Chief Mansfield is grateful for the response of so many agencies including MEMA, The State Fire Marshal’s Office, and fire departments from as far away as Boston, Needham, and Belmont.
More information will be provided as soon as it becomes available. Updates will be made at www.andoverma.gov and on the town’s Facebook and Twitter feeds.
UPDATE 9:30 PM
Andover Public Schools are closed tomorrow, Friday, September 14, 2018
Was the company hacked?
Homeland Security refused to disclose the names of companies hit by cyberattacks, which included firms that operate oil and gas facilities, nuclear power plants, water treatment plants, aviation systems and manufacturing sites. Government entities were targeted, as well.
The FBI and Homeland Security began studying the attacks early last year, finding the hackers targeted third-party suppliers and other smaller companies, which typically lack strong network protections, By infiltrating a smaller company’s network, a hacker could glean information to stage an attack on a larger company, such as by finding the email of a suitable target or credentials that could grant access to systems shared with a larger company at a plant.
In 2017 Report: Most oil and gas companies have been hacked: In the past year, nearly 70 percent of oil and gas organizations have endured security compromises. These breaches have exposed confidential information and disrupted operational technology – or OT – operations.
The threat against OT is growing: Two-thirds of respondents said they believe attacks against industrial control systems have increased during the past few years.
More must be done to stop the threat: Only a third of respondents thought OT and information technology (IT) networks were fully aligned for cybersecurity. Little more than that – 35 percent – rated their readiness to address cyber threats as high. It is no surprise that nearly half of all OT attacks are not being detected.
March 2018: At least five U.S. pipeline companies have said their electronic communications systems were shut down over the past few days, with four confirming the service disruptions were caused by a cyberattack. Energy Transfer Partners LP, Boardwalk Pipeline Partners LP, Chesapeake Utilities Corp.’s Eastern Shore Natural Gas and the TransCanada Corp.-operated Portland Natural Gas Transmission System were among the companies affected by data outages, while Oneok Inc. said it disabled its system as a precaution.
A cyberattack that hobbled the operations of at least four natural gas pipeline companies starting late last week also triggered changes within the utility industry.
Duke Energy Corp., the second largest U.S. utility by market capitalization, said it first learned about the attack on March 30. Duke became concerned because it shares consumer data with dozens of third-party electricity and gas providers in Ohio through an electronic system run by Energy Services Group LLC, the data firm that was hacked.
Fearing the information could be compromised, Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke abandoned the Energy Services system, Catherine Butler, a Duke spokeswoman, said in an email. As a result, some Ohio customers may see a delay in getting their monthly energy bills or receive partial bills, she said.
Energy Services, meanwhile, said on Wednesday that its systems are back up. “We are now completing testing and system validation to bring all customers back into safe and secure operation,” working with a leading cyber forensic firm, Carla Roddy, ESG’s marketing director, said in an email.
At least five U.S. pipeline companies have said their electronic communications systems were shut down over the past few days, with four confirming the service disruptions were caused by a cyberattack. Energy Transfer Partners LP, Boardwalk Pipeline Partners LP, Chesapeake Utilities Corp.’s Eastern Shore Natural Gas and the TransCanada Corp.-operated Portland Natural Gas Transmission System were among the companies affected by data outages, while Oneok Inc. said it disabled its system as a precaution.
ESG’s electronic systems help pipeline operators speed up tracking and scheduling of gas flows. The company also supplies electricity prices and demand models that retail power providers depend on to bill homes and businesses, and determine how much supply to secure for customers in wholesale markets, said Michael Harris, chief executive officer of Unified Energy Services LLC, a Houston-based consulting firm.
March 2018: Federal authorities on Thursday blamed the Russian government for a two-year surge in cyberattacks against U.S. energy companies, an unprecedented rebuke of the Kremlin for an online assault that threatens energy companies in Houston and across the nation.
Since early 2016, hackers backed by Moscow have targeted small commercial facilities to stage multiple attacks on U.S. energy networks, sending companies malware-laced emails in an effort to penetrate vital control systems that run energy facilities, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigations said in a joint statement. Officials provided few details, but analysts said the attackers almost certainly targeted companies in Houston, home to major refineries, chemical plants, pipeline companies and oil and gas producers.
A Russian hacking campaign, orchestrated by a group known as Dragonfly, in several cases infiltrated workstations and servers on corporate networks linked to systems that control the production and flow of energy, the U.S. agencies said. After gaining a foothold in the networks, the hackers began surveillance on the operations, collecting data and copying information for accessing systems that operate thousands of functions at power plants, refineries, pipelines and petrochemical facilities.
U.S. energy companies reported more than 350 cybersecurity incidents between 2011 and 2015, most of them aimed at trying to infiltrate systems that control pipelines, refineries, electric transmission, oil and gas production and other operations, according to Homeland Security.
‘It looked like Armageddon:’ Deadly gas blasts destroy homes near Boston