The first $70 million in settlement payments to residents affected by the Merrimack Valley gas explosions will be mailed Friday about six weeks earlier than expected.

"For those residents who filed a claim with the administrator seeking a lump-sum payment, the average per-household payment will be more than $8,000," according to the statement from several lead attorneys involved in the $143 million class action lawsuit.

Attorneys previously asked for settlement payments to be fast tracked due the COVID-19 pandemic which shut down parts of the economy.

Gas disaster payments were initially expected to start in July.

“Getting this first round of checks out now rather than at the end of June will give a desperately needed lifeline to thousands of families during the COVID-19 shutdown,” according to the statement.

A follow-up lump sum payment will go out in June for those who filed a claim but have not yet provided proof they lived in Lawrence, Andover or North Andover in September 2018.

Checks for itemized personal and business claimants will go out in September, as those claims take much longer to review, according to the statement.

Residents and businesses in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover all were affected by the Sept. 13, 2018 gas disaster

As a result of the fires and explosions caused by overpressurized pipelines operated by Columbia Gas, Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, was killed, three firefighters and 19 civilians were hurt, and damages are estimated at $1 billion.

About 50,000 people were forced to evacuate and the severity of the damage depended on the age of appliances. Five homes were destroyed and 131 properties damaged, according to findings by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Prior to the final hearing on the settlement Feb. 27, a total of 11,077 claims had been filed. That figure includes 10,432 residential claims and 645 claims from area businesses that suffered losses or closed.

The claims, which encompass 35,000 people, run the gamut from spoiled food, to lodging, to property damage and more, according to testimony.

According to Lang’s decision, 56 percent of the claims came from Lawrence, followed by 23 percent from Andover and 19 percent from North Andover. 

Columbia Gas officials have said they spent a billion dollars already on gas disaster recovery in the communities.

The gas utility pleaded guilty to federal charges leveled after the disaster and also agreed to pay a $53 million fine. 

Competing utility Eversource Energy announced its $1.1 billion plan to buy the Massachusetts portion of the company.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.  

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