Merrimack Valley is still rebuilding weeks after the explosive incident of Sept. 13, 2018. Shortly before 5 p.m., on Sept. 13, reports of gas odor flooded the Massachusetts police stations in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover. Without warning, there were dozens of explosions in these cities that resulted in house fires. As a result, one person was killed and more than 20 were injured. Over 18,000 people did not have electricity on this night at some point. Many were forced to evacuate for days before returning to what remained of their homes.
The explosions were quickly attributed to the pipelines of Columbia Gas, a supplier of natural gas to over 300,000 customers, with the parent company of NiSource. On September 17, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey sent a letter to Columbia Gas to find answers about the explosions and why they occurred. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, “the pressure in the system should have been around 0.5 pounds per square inch, but readings in the area reached at least 6 PSI.”
A class-action lawsuit was announced against Columbia Gas on September 18. The explosions are currently under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. They are also focusing on why the pressure sensors connected to the gas line were taken out of service shortly before the blasts.
In the wake of the explosions, the neighboring town of Haverhill had to shut off gas services to 20 houses that were on the North Andover pipeline. Luckily, no damage occurred there. To help affected families, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) Nevins Farm took in 92 animals that were displaced because of the explosions. Pentucket Bank, a local bank with locations in Haverhill and North Andover, announced a Merrimack Valley Gas/Fire Relief Fund with a $25,000 contribution from the bank itself.
A Greater Lawrence Disaster Relief Fund was created on September 18 through the Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF). Governor Charlie Baker stated that “this fund will help us bridge the gap for families and businesses facing immediate needs for support services, ranging from sustenance to housing, and will be a vital tool for recovery in the coming weeks.” Governor Baker, Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, Andover and North Andover Town Managers Andrew Flanagan and Andrew Maylor, and ECCF officials joined Columbia Gas of Massachusetts President Steve Bryant in announcing a $10 million donation from Columbia Gas to the Relief Fund.
All donated money goes to aid the many houses, restaurants and business owners that are still without gas services. On September 26, Columbia Gas and contracted employees began cleaning out the gas pipelines to prepare to replace them. The entire affected area must be redone with new pipelines, and the company hopes to have all services restored by Nov. 19, 2018.