Explosions outside Boston: You cant even see the sky

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Dozens of homes were reported to have caught fire in several northern MA towns on Thursday after a series of suspected gas explosions.

At least one person has died and 12 people have been injured in the explosions.

Gas utilities have come under heightened scrutiny in recent years for an aging network of pipelines that critics say are not being properly inspected and maintained, posing a growing risk to public safety.

Officials have said that between 60 and 80 fires and a number of explosions broke out in homes and businesses in the towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover that are located approximately 30 miles (45km) north of Boston.

Columbia Gas posted an online note shortly after the first explosions that read: "Crews are now responding to reports of multiple fires in Lawrence, MA".

"Mr. Rondon was inside a auto near 35 Chickering Rd in Lawrence when a chimney from a house explosion fell on the vehicle", according to a statement from the Essex County DA's office.

Minutes later, Mr Nam said he heard a loud boom from his neighbour's house and the ground shook. Three people rushed out.

By 7:00pm local time, officials in Andover said all fires in the town had been extinguished.

According to Methuen Police Chief Joseph Soloman there were 20 fires burning in Andover, 20-25 in Lawrence and 20-25 in North Andover.

Columbia Gas had announced earlier in the day it would be upgrading gas lines in neighbourhoods across MA, including the area where the explosions happened.

"Gas lines are now being depressurised", police said on Twitter, adding that "it will take some time".

A statement from Indiana-based NiSource says its "thoughts are with everyone affected by today's incident" and that it appreciates the response from local emergency crews.

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Some residents were evacuated from their homes to senior centers and middle schools as officials investigated the situation, police said.

"We are asking everybody with gas in their homes to leave their homes until further notice", North Andover town manager Andrew Maylor told one local television station.

Fire burns in a home destroyed in a gas explosion in Lawrence, Mass., Thursday.

The explosions and emergency response caused Amtrak to cancel four train routes between Boston and Maine. Passengers on three were being moved by bus. Six people were being treated at Lawrence General Hospital, spokeswoman Jill McDonald Halsey said.

Late on Thursday Lawrence resident Bruce Razin was among the evacuees standing outside the Colonial Heights neighbourhood near the city's high school trying to decide what to do next.

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera said residents in the southern part of the city had been asked to evacuate their homes because of planned power cuts.

Before evacuating from North Andover, Jeremy Melvin described a chaotic scene near the plumbing shop where he works.

Residence halls and academic buildings at Merrimack College were evacuated, according to Jim Chiavelli, chief of staff for the college president.

National Grid, the electricity provider in the three communities, shut off electric service to about 18,000 customers on Thursday night, as requested by emergency officials, and many remained without power on Friday.

The area is served by the Columbia Gas of MA unit of NiSource, whose shares fell 11.7 percent to close at $24.79 on Friday.

"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.