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Fires, explosions erupt in multiple US towns near Boston

Thursday, September 13, 2018

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NEW YORK, United States (AFP) — Mass evacuations from US towns north of Boston were underway Thursday after dozens of fires and suspected gas explosions erupted, police said, leaving at least 10 residents injured, one critically.

Massachusetts State Police said they had responded to 70 reports of fires, explosions and the smell of gas in a widespread zone encompassing the east coast towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.

"Gas lines are currently being depressurised," police tweeted, adding that "it will take some time."

"Numerous evacuations of neighbourhoods where there are gas odours are underway," police said. "Far too early to speculate on cause. Joint investigation will be conducted when situation is stabilised."

Authorities were to cut power to thousands of meters, police said, and residents in all three towns with utilities service from Columbia Gas had been asked to evacuate immediately.

In a release dated Thursday the company had said it would "be upgrading natural gas lines in neighbourhoods across the state."

The mayor of Lawrence requested that all those living in the southern zone of his town leave their homes ahead of the planned power shutdown.

Lawrence General Hospital said it was treating 10 patients injured in the gas explosions, one in critical condition and another in serious condition.

"Cases range from smoke inhalation to traumatic blast injuries," the hospital said, adding that one patient had been taken to another hospital.

Red Cross centres were open to shelter evacuees while Lawrence-area schools were to shutter Friday.

A team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board was to head to the scene Friday morning, the federal agency tweeted.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said in a statement he was "actively monitoring the situation," urging residents to heed instructions from local officials.

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