Alumni, students cope with impact of Massachusetts gas explosions



Fires caused by mishap with Columbia Gas Company leads to massive property damage and evacuations and the death of 18-year-old Leonel Rondon.

Emily Craig, Editor-in-Chief

This past Thursday marks the second week since over 8,600 people were forced from their homes in three northeastern Massachusetts towns due to gas explosions.

According to one of the many CNN articles published on the matter, Governor Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts the next day—Friday, Sept. 14. The three towns affected included Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover.

Baker decided to enlist the utility company Eversource to begin restoring the homes of the families affected by the explosions caused by a mishap with Columbia Gas. The process of restoration will take time, Baker said.

Several hundred natural gas technicians were assigned to attend to the gas service in these homes before they could install electrical systems, as reported by CNN.

The Press Herald reported on the day of the explosions that “by late Thursday, all of the fires had been doused but many areas remained silent and dark after residents fled and after power companies cut electricity to prevent further fires.”

Schools in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover canceled classes for the day following the fires. Some of those schools offered shelter to the families whose homes were completely obliterated a mere 24 hours before.

Only one death was reported amidst what Andover Fire Rescue Chief Michael B. Mansfield called an “Armageddon” in the aforementioned CNN article.

Lawrence resident Leonel Rondon died when a chimney from one of the houses in flames crushed his car while he was still inside. He died later on in the night at the hospital, only 18 years old.

According to USA Today, “the pressure in the natural gas pipelines… spiked to 12 times their normal,” causing the eruptions and subsequent destruction.

Over 50 percent of students at Saint Anselm College are from Massachusetts. President Steven DiSalvo sent a school-wide email Friday, Sept 14, to address the fires.

“Dear Members of the Saint Anselm College Community,” the email began. “As the nation braces for the hurricane in the Carolinas, closer to home first responders worked through the night to contain the string of fires across the Merrimack Valley, and Columbia Gas customers in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover have been evacuated from their homes and buildings.”

DiSalvo continued: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those impacted by this terrible event. Many members of our campus and extended community have homes, families, and friends who have been directly affected, and I know that you all share my sadness at the injury and damage that has been inflicted on the region and its residents.”

DiSalvo assured the community that Residential Life, Campus Ministry, and Health Services, as well as the Dean of Students Office, Dean’s Office and all members of college leadership, were and still are “ready to lend their help and support to all members of the Anselmian community.”

Sheila Ramirez ’18, a Lawrence native, was involved in some of the relief efforts made by town members.

“I went to Lawrence on Saturday, which was 2 days after the fires,” Ramirez said. “Many homes were destroyed and half the city was completely evacuated and no one could enter.”

Ramirez continued, “There were multiple donation centers around the city and cities from all over New England were helping with relief efforts. Many large corporations donated goods to fire victims and different locations across the city were safe places where victims that didn’t have a place to go could stay the night.”

As part of the relief efforts, Ramirez helped organize some of the locations and get victims the items that they needed.

“It was very nice seeing all the community get together to help,” she said. “I saw many people I worked with in different community organizations help. It was very inspiring seeing how resilient Lawrence is. I’m very proud to be from there.”

A class action lawsuit was filed shortly after the fires against the Columbia Gas company, but the investigation is in its early stages.

Neither Columbia Gas nor NiSource, its parent company, commented about the intended investigation to determine whether they had been involved with the “‘antiquated’ gas lines in unsafe conditions [which] caused the over-pressurization of the system.”