City hit by explosions a year ago sees gas leak, evacuations

BOSTON (AP) — A gas leak in the United States (US) forced the temporary evacuation on Friday of hundreds of residents from a Massachusetts city still reeling from a destructive series of gas explosions and fires a year ago.

Residents in about 150 homes in Lawrence evacuated in the early morning hours after a police officer smelled gas around 3.15am and alerted authorities, officials said.

The leak was located and sealed off by 5am, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts said. There were no reported injuries, explosions or fires.

Governor Charlie Baker and others declined to say what caused the leak, but Baker said investigators are confident that the leak was isolated and that there’s no threat to public safety. The state Department of Public Utilities will investigate in the days ahead, he said.

By Friday afternoon, electricity and gas were gradually being restored, and the majority of residents were allowed to return to their homes.

Emergency personnel respond after a reported gas leak in Lawrence, Massachusetts. PHOTO: AP

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera said the city would continue to operate a temporary shelter for the remaining residents.

Another, smaller gas leak was also reported on Friday afternoon. It was quickly resolved and not related to the larger morning episode, Rivera said.

“It’s a strange thing to be back talking about gas only a year after this thing happened,” he said.

Columbia Gas, which has been blamed for last year’s disaster, said its crews were not working in the area at the time.

The line was among miles of new gas pipelines the company has installed across the region to replace old cast iron pipes, it said.

“We know that it was not systemic across the area,” said Columbia Gas President Mark Kempic. “That’s why people should feel safe.”

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded this week that Columbia Gas poorly planned a routine pipeline replacement project in Lawrence, causing natural gas overpressurisation that led to the explosions and fires in homes and businesses on September 13 last year.

One person died, dozens of others were injured, about 100 structures were damaged, and thousands of residents and businesses were left without heat or hot water, for months in some cases.