By now, millions of people have learned about how, in seeming staccato fashion, dozens of homes in North Andover, Andover and South Lawrence Massachusetts literally blew up, one after another, yesterday (September 13.) Fire, police, and disaster crews from across northeastern Massachusetts poured in to these communities in response. As of right now, there has been one fatality reported – a young man – 18 year-old Leonel Rondon of Lawrence, was killed when a home on Chickering Road exploded, causing the chimney to collapse on a car that Rondon was in, inside the driveway of that home. A photo of the boy is below. Other fatalities may follow.
News helicopters observing from the sky have commented that these communities looked like they were bombed by enemy airplanes, strafing the region. The word “Armageddon” has been used by more than one source to describe the devastation, which from accounts issued so far, would indeed replicate house after house, exploding one after the other, as if either on timers or bombed from above. I hope to observe some of the damage myself, but rescue and safety crews will likely mean that aerial news footage will have to suffice, for now.
MEMA Director Kurt Schwartz stated that emergency crews have so far responded to somewhere between 60 and 80 fires, and multiple explosions within a brief time frame.
In Andover alone, there were a total of 38 homes on fire. Reportedly, fires in that town were extinguished by 6:45 p.m. At the height of the disaster, 18 fires were burning simultaneously. Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield said he has not witnessed anything resembling this over his 39-year career. “It looked like Armageddon, it really did,” he said. “There were billows of smoke coming from Lawrence behind me, I could see plumes of smoke in front of me, within the town of Andover, it looked like an absolute war zone.”
Right now, according to authorities, it seems that natural gas delivered to dozens of these homes may have spiked to dangerously high levels that caused these explosions and fires. More investigation will obviously be needed to clarify or confirm the cause(s) of this massive catastrophe but this tragedy, and that may take quite some time. Colombia Gas is the utility that delivers gas to these communities and homes. Regardless of how much time that takes, if the investigations that follow determine that this catastrophe was the result of negligence on the part of Colombia – which it is far too early to say yet – then this catastrophe becomes not only a tragedy, but an extremely important legal event, not only for this state, but for the region and the country. The damages involved here could easily reach hundreds of millions of dollars. Again, as to who or what parties might ultimately be legally responsible, it is far too early to assess that. Very initially, though, it is important to understand something that many people don’t readily know when it comes to utility companies – whether those utilities are providing electricity or natural gas to hear their homes and water: Utility companies such as Colombia Gas, Eversource and similar, only deliver the product to the customer: They do not generate (produce, manufacture) the natural gas or the electric power — the party who generates the particular form of energy involved is almost always a separate provider, a separate corporate entity. That’s not a minor detail: It will ultimately impact the legal liability of any parties here, down the road. If (and that’s a big “if”), it is later determined that these disasters were indeed caused by dangerously high levels of pressure that pumped the natural gas into these homes, then Colombia Gas could end up liable for paying hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to dozens & dozens of these victims – both in property damage and personal injuries.
This is posted on a legal blog, as our firm specializes in complex liability law on behalf of injured plaintiffs. As a Massachusetts catastrophic injury attorney, I can assure everyone that the legal issues can and will be dealt with later – as they should be. But for now, let us deal with what is immediately important, and let us all say our respective prayers for the families and individuals who suffered from an unprecedented catastrophe.