Gov. Baker declares state of emergency, puts Eversource in charge of restoration efforts

“We are sorry," the Columbia Gas president said. "We're sorry and deeply concerned about the inconvenience. This is the sort of thing that a gas distribution company hopes never happens."

Gov. Charlie Baker during a press conference Thursday night.
Gov. Charlie Baker during a press conference Thursday night. –Katherine Taylor

Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency and put Eversource in charge of restoration efforts in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover, saying he is not happy with the recovery so far by Columbia Gas following dozens of explosions and fires Thursday.

“We believe that will make a change,” Baker said during a Friday afternoon press conference.

The governor said the decision was made after conversations with Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, Andover Town Manager Andrew Flanagan, and North Andover Town Manager Andrew Maylor. An 18-year-old was killed and at least 10 others injured when a series of gas explosions and fires broke out in the three Merrimack Valley communities on Thursday afternoon, forcing the evacuation of thousands of residents.

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“The follow-through just wasn’t there,” Baker said. “We need to get on with this.”

Eversource President Bill Akley said in a statement the company is sending 133 workers plus a mobile command unit and two emergency communications trailers.

“Our top priority is the safety of the public, our customers, and our employees, and while we are sending support teams, we continue to retain the resources we need to serve our customers,” Akley said.

In the same news conference, Rivera blasted Columbia Gas for wasting time and not communicating to officials what caused the explosions and fires. He also described how the company told the three communities to evacuate all residents and to cut electricity last night.

“Those are the last two coherent pieces of information we got from Columbia Gas,” Rivera said. “Everything since then has been obfuscation, and they have not met their mandate.”

In a separate press conference afterward, Columbia Gas President Steve Bryant said the company has met “with state officials on a very regular basis.”

“I respect the governor’s judgement,” Bryant said.

As of 3 p.m., he said the company had shut off gas to over 3,200 customers — over 1,800 in Lawrence and around 700 each in North Andover and Andover.

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The company is opening a claims center, Bryant said.

“We are sorry,” he said. “We’re sorry and deeply concerned about the inconvenience. This is the sort of thing that a gas distribution company hopes never happens.”

 

Watch Gov. Baker’s remarks:

 

Watch the press conference with Columbia Gas president Steve Bryant: