Investigators are working to pinpoint the cause of a series of fiery natural gas explosions that killed a teen driver in his car just hours after he got his license, injured at least 25 others and left dozens of homes in smouldering ruins.
Authorities said an estimated 8000 people were displaced at the height of Thursday’s post-explosion chaos in three towns north of Boston rocked by the disaster.
Most were still waiting, shaken and exhausted, to be allowed to return to their homes.
Governor Charlie Baker said on Friday that hundreds of gas technicians were being deployed throughout the night and into Saturday to make sure each home is safe to enter.
Even after residents return and their electricity is restored, gas service won’t be turned on until technicians can inspect every connection in each home – a process that could take weeks.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sent a team to help investigate the blasts in a state where some of the ageing gas pipeline system dates to the 1860s.
The rapid-fire series of gas explosions that one official described as “Armageddon” ignited fires in 60 to 80 homes in the working-class towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, forcing entire neighbourhoods to evacuate as crews scrambled to fight the flames and shut off the gas and electricity.
Gas and electricity remained shut down Friday in most of the area, and entire neighbourhoods were eerily deserted.
Authorities said Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, died after a chimney toppled by an exploding house crashed into his car.
He was rushed to a Boston hospital and pronounced dead on Thursday evening.
Rondon, a musician who went by the name DJ Blaze, had just gotten his driver’s license hours earlier, grieving friends and relatives told The Boston Globe.
The NTSB said on Saturday (Friday local time) that its team will remain on the scene for a week.
Massachusetts State Police urged all residents with homes serviced by Columbia Gas in the three communities to evacuate, snarling traffic and causing widespread confusion as residents and local officials struggled to understand what was happening.
Some 400 people spent the night in shelters, and school was cancelled on Friday as families waited to return to their homes.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency blamed the fires on gas lines that had become over-pressurised but said investigators were still examining what happened.
The three communities house more than 146,000 residents about 40 kilometres north of Boston, near the New Hampshire border. Lawrence, the largest, is a majority Latino city with a population of about 80,000.
Authorities said all of the fires had been extinguished overnight and the situation was stabilising.
On Thursday, Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield described the unfolding scene as “Armageddon.”
“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,” he told reporters.
Aerial footage of the area showed some homes that appeared to be torn apart by the blasts.
Gas explosions have claimed lives and destroyed property around the U.S. in recent years.