Merrimack Valley Marks 1 Year Since Disastrous Gas Explosions

An Andover Fire Department Chief described the horrific Merrimack Valley explosions as "Armageddon"

What to Know

  • On Sept. 13, 2018, a series of explosions caused by over-pressurized natural gas lines devastated the Merrimack Valley.
  • More than 100 homes were on fire, an 18-year-old man was killed and at least 25 people injured in the disaster.
  • Lawrence, North Andover and Andover residents were without heat or hot water for months, even during winter.

Communities in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts on Friday marked the first anniversary of the gas explosions that killed teenager Leonel Rondon, set more than 100 homes on fire and displaced some 8,000 people in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence.

Lawrence city officials unveiled Leonel A. Rondon Square in honor of the 18-year-old teenager who was killed. Rondon died after a chimney exploded while he was sitting his car in the family driveway.

The square, which is at the corner of Chestnut and Jackson streets, is across the street from the Rondon family home.

"There’s no words that would describe how we are feeling," said Lucianny Rondon, the victim's sister. "We feel this emptiness, this sadness, this pain that is killing us inside."

In July, Rondon’s family reached an undisclosed settlement with Columbia Gas, months after they filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the utility.

After the naming of the square, a memorial mass was held for the other victims who lost their homes and businesses as well as first responders in Lawrence. 

"Please remember those who lost all," Lawrence Fire Chief Brian Moriarty said on Twitter, adding that people should also reflect on the work of first responders.

On Sept. 13, 2018 residents were forced out of their homes and into shelters as their homes and belongings burned in what one horrified fire chief described as "Armageddon." For months, Merrimack Valley homeowners lived in reception centers, trailers and hotel rooms as they awaited the approval to return home and start over.

"I've been in the fire service for almost 39 years and I've never seen anything like this in my entire career," Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield said in a press conference after the disaster.

The devastating series of explosions were blamed on over-pressurized natural gas lines and responsible for the death of Rondon, as well as the injuries of at least 25 people.

Aerial footage from NBC10 Boston’s Sky Ranger helicopter the day of the explosions showed clouds of smoke billowing from numerous houses as firefighters desperately battled to douse massive flames.

Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency for the disaster due to the way Columbia Gas, the service responsible for the gas pipes that exploded, handled the aftermath.

"Neighbors who watched their houses blown up next to them have no understanding of why that happened and what's being done to fix it," Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera said a year ago. "This is real people and real issues."

For months, community members were without gas, including heat and hot water during winter. Residents were given space heaters and hotplates while crews worked to restore 48 miles of pipelines.

Columbia Gas agreed to pay $143 million to settle all class action lawsuits in connection to the disaster.

A year after the explosions, Ismael Rivera of Lawrence is finally set to move back into his home. 

"But we're just lucky and blessed to be back home," Rivera said. "We love this area, we love our neighbors, so we're just glad to be back home." 

Work remains to be done. Columbia Gas announced Thursday it plans to inspect 700 gas lines to make sure they are up to code.

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