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Fires, explosions erupt in multiple US towns near Boston, mass evacuations underway

Residents in all three towns with utilities service from Columbia Gas had been asked to evacuate immediately.

New York: Dozens of explosions, triggered by a natural gas pipeline rupture, rocked three communities near Boston on Thursday, killing at least one person, injuring 12. Mass evacuations from US towns north of Boston were underway on Thursday after dozens of fires and suspected gas explosions erupted, said police.

Massachusetts State Police said they had responded to 70 reports of fires, explosions and the smell of gas in a widespread zone encompassing the east coast towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.

“Columbia Gas is investigating what happened on its system today,” NiSource spokesman Ken Stammen said.

The former head of the agency, Brigham McCown, called the series of gas explosions “unprecedented, at least in recent memory.” “I can’t think of a series of natural gas-related incidents like this,” McCown, who led PHMSA under President George W Bush, told Reuters by telephone. “We have had similar issues on a much smaller scale.”

“Gas lines are currently being depressurised,” police tweeted, adding that “it will take some time.”

“Numerous evacuations of neighborhoods where there are gas odours are underway,” police said. “Far too early to speculate on cause. Joint investigation will be conducted when situation is stabilised.”

Authorities were to cut power to thousands of meters, police said, and residents in all three towns with utilities service from Columbia Gas had been asked to evacuate immediately. In a release dated Thursday the company had said it would, “be upgrading natural gas lines in neighborhoods across the state.”

The mayor of Lawrence requested everyone in the southern zone of his town to leave their homes ahead of the planned power shutdown. Lawrence General Hospital said it was treating 10 patients injured in the gas explosions.

“Cases range from smoke inhalation to traumatic blast injuries,” the hospital said, adding that one patient had been taken to another hospital.

A team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board was to head to the scene on Friday morning, the federal agency tweeted.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said in a statement he was “actively monitoring the situation,” urging residents to heed instructions from local officials.

(With inputs from Agencies)

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