A series of gas explosions described as "Armageddon" has killed a teenager, injured at least 10 other people and set fire to at least 39 homes in communities north of Boston, forcing evacuations as crews scramble to fight the flames and shut off the gas.
Authorities said Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, died on Thursday after a chimney toppled by an exploding house crashed into his car. He was rushed to a Boston hospital but pronounced dead there.
Massachusetts State Police urged all residents with homes serviced by Columbia Gas in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover to evacuate, snarling traffic and causing widespread confusion as residents and local officials struggled to understand what was happening.
"It looked like Armageddon, it really did," Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield told reporters.
"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."
Governor Charlie Baker said state and local authorities were investigating but that it could take days or weeks before they turn up answers.
"This is still very much an active scene," he said.
"There will be plenty of time later tonight, tomorrow morning and into the next day to do some of the work around determining exactly what happened and why."
Hours after the explosions, the utility's parent company issued a brief statement saying its crews were still performing safety checks in the area.
"Our thoughts are with everyone affected by today's incident," Indiana-based NiSource said in a statement. "The first priority for our crews at the scene is to ensure the safety of our customers and the community."
Baker previously said authorities hadn't heard directly from Columbia Gas, but later called the company's response "adequate."
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 all three communities were cancelled for Friday, and some schools were being used as shelters for residents.
Lawrence resident Ra Nam said he was in his yard when the smoke detector in his basement went off.
When he ran downstairs and saw the boiler on fire, he quickly grabbed a fire extinguisher and put it out.
Minutes later, Nam said he heard a loud boom from his neighbour's house and the ground shook. Nam said a woman and two children had made it out of the house but the basement was on fire.
Lawrence General Hospital said it was treating 10 victims, including at least one in critical condition.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency blamed the fires on gas lines that had become over-pressurised but said investigators were still examining what happened.
Aerial footage of the area showed some homes that appeared to be torn apart by blasts.