What officials and the utility company are saying about the response to the gas explosions and fires

"Everyone wants answers. And we deserve them," Congressman Seth Moulton said.

Emergency vehicles lined up on Route 114 in Lawrence after a outbreak of fires due to overpressured gas lines on Thursday, September 13, 2018. (Scott Eisen for The Boston Globe)
Emergency vehicles on Route 114 in Lawrence on Thursday. –Scott Eisen for The Boston Globe

First responders from throughout Massachusetts and parts of New Hampshire sprung into action Thursday afternoon when dozens of gas explosions and fires broke out in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover.

Here’s what officials are saying about their efforts — and about what questions still need to be answered.

Gov. Charlie Baker

“The police, fire, and first responders who’ve poured in from across the regions have done an incredible job, and I want to thank them for stepping up today,” Gov. Charlie Baker said during a press conference early Friday morning.

In a series of tweets late Friday morning, the governor said the first responders “answered the call” and that any and all resources were being used to help those displaced get back home.

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“We ask for continued patience as this important work is done,” he added. “Once utilities secure the affected areas, we will work with the federal government to investigate how this occurred and hold people accountable for their actions.”

Congressman Seth Moulton

Rep. Seth Moulton immediately demanded answers from Columbia Gas, the utility company responsible for the lines involved.

He said in a tweet Thursday night that he had called the president of Columbia Gas “multiple times” to no avail.

“Everyone wants answers. And we deserve them,” he said.

In an interview with WBZ, Moulton said that “you see the best of the American spirit” at the shelters.

“A number of people” stayed in the shelters, he said during an interview with WBUR Friday morning. He noted that despite circumstances, “they kept their heads up.”

“No one knew what was going on,” he said.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey called for a congressional hearing on the incident in a letter to the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

“Senators Markey and Warren are asking to hear from regulators and the distribution company Columbia Gas to understand how this incident occurred and what must be done to ensure these types of dangerous accidents do not happen again,” according to a joint news release.

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Warren visited Lawrence Friday to speak with local officials.

Markey also demanded answers via Twitter.

Local officials

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera said that the city’s emergency crews were “well supported” throughout the disaster during the press conference early Friday morning.

He also said that there were “no incidents on the street” Thursday night into Friday.

“Lawrence is coming together in a way we expected,” Rivera said.

After the incident began, there were over 200 firefighters in Andover, according to John Guilfoil, a spokesman for the department. There were also 30 town police officers, 13 state troopers, and 209 members of the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council in town, too, he said.

MEMA

Around 400 people made use of five shelters spread throughout the area Thursday night, said Kurt Schwartz, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, during a press conference just after 10 a.m. Friday.

“Whatever the demand is tonight, the communities will meet those needs,” he said.

When pressed for a potential cause, Schwartz only said that “the investigation is in its very preliminary stages,” noting that state and federal will partner.

Columbia Gas

Columbia Gas issued a statement Friday morning, calling what happened a “tragic incident.”

What happened in the Merrimack Valley yesterday was a tragic incident. We are saddened to learn of the death of a young man as a result of these events. Our thoughts and continued support are with those who have been injured and affected. We are focused on providing as much support as possible to our customers, residents and communities. We are grateful for the community’s patience, as well as the tremendous support we have received from our first responder and law enforcement partners.

As part of response efforts, Columbia Gas crews need to visit each of the 8,600 affected customers to shut off each gas meter and conduct a safety inspection. More than 500 resources from several affiliated Columbia Gas companies and other utilities are currently mobilizing to provide assistance.

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