The wake of a gas disaster

TIM JEAN/Staff photo A woman who lived in 27 Brookfield St., Lawrence sits outside the burned building where she once lived. It has bee three days since a massive natural gas leak caused fires and explosions in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover. 9/15/18

4 P.M.

NORTH ANDOVER -- A piece of paper taped to a front door was a common sight across North Andover on Saturday afternoon, providing contact information for local police and gas workers.

In parts of Andover, North Andover and Lawrence, police officers, firefighters and hundreds of gas workers from Columbia Gas and Eversource hit the streets to check houses for the presence of gas on Saturday, sometimes utilizing a locksmith to gain access to the homes.

Checked houses without gas inside were then cleared for residents to return to them, although electricity remains out in portions of all three towns. It remains unclear when gas will be restored to cleared houses.

The town of North Andover provided this contact number for affected gas users in order to restore their gas: 1-866-388-3239.

According to an update posted on North Andover's website, most homes on the cleared list "should have power restored." Newly cleared homes may not have power.

Town Manager Andrew Maylor, who was downtown Saturday afternoon to answer resident questions, said only streets where every house had been cleared would appear on the cleared list.

Thousands of streets had been cleared Saturday afternoon, according to that spreadsheet.

North Andover Superintendent of Schools Gregg Gilligan was going to each school with a team of a building inspectors, fire fighters, the town engineer, and gas workers, to clear them in the hopes of returning as soon as possible.

"We want to try and restore a sense of normalcy," he said.

Gilligan said he hoped to have an update for parents by Sunday.

The shelter at North Andover High School remained open Saturday. Gilligan said about 75 people slept there Thursday night, and 16 people slept there Friday night. And people are actively using it as a location to receive resources and aid.

2:25 p.m.

Increasing numbers of homes are being cleared for re-entry in Andover and North Andover, and officials are notifying those residents that they can return home — with caution.

Updates on cleared homes can be found at www.andoverma.gov in Andover and northandoverma.gov in North Andover, as well as community social media sites.

In Andover, Town Manager Andrew Flanagan, Police Chief Patrick Keefe and Fire Chief Michael Mansfield issued a statement saying that more than half of the streets in the affected zone have been cleared, and those residents can return home.

The town of Andover was notified by Eversource Energy that of the 2,078 affected gas meters, at least 1,150 of them have been shut down and cleared.

Residents in the cleared zone may return home immediately, but may not have gas service for some time.

In North Andover, officials asked that residents who have not been cleared to enter their homes tape a contact phone number clearly on the door to expedite restoration.

They urged residents not to enter their homes when posting a phone number on the door, but rather to return to a safe area and wait to be notified.

Most homes on the cleared list should have power restored, North Andover officials said. However, some of the newly cleared homes and streets may not have power immediately.

North Andover homeowners should be contacted by the utility company when cleared. All homes on a street must be cleared before being added to the list.

In Andover, more than 100 teams of gas technicians, police officers, and firefighters are working to get residents back  home, officials said.

National Grid has informed the town that it expects to have electrical service restored to nearly all customers within 24 hours.

In all affected communities, residents whose homes are on the cleared list but whose gas was shut off as a precaution should not attempt to turn their gas back on. Eversource crews will restore service when it is safe to do so.

Crews are going door to door to shut off meters and ensure homes and businesses are safe to occupy. They will be working around the clock to complete this process. Once that work is completed, electricity will be restored to the impacted areas.

"We are working diligently to make sure that every Andover family can return home safely, and we are very pleased with the progress that Eversource has made since taking over this process yesterday afternoon," Town Manager Flanagan said. "Most importantly, I want to express my sincere gratitude to all of our residents for their patience, resilience, and teamwork in coming together during this challenging week."

There is no definite timetable for complete restoration of gas service.

Affected Columbia Gas Leak customers should use the restoration hotline number, 1-866-388-3239, to report concerns or issues.

1:50 P.M.

LAWRENCE - As residents and businesses enter a third day without power and gas service, Mayor Daniel Rivera said he's hopeful some people will be allowed back in their homes by Saturday night. 

South Lawrence homes and businesses were evacuated and power cut after a series of major gas explosions and fires Thursday evening and night. 

Rivera said thousands of people have been affected by the major gas line problem. Of the 8,600 gas meters in question, Rivera said 5,515 of them are in Lawrence. 

"Everyone south of the river was effected," said Rivera. "We have elderly people who haven't been home since Thursday afternoon. We have people who live next to buildings that are blown up."

"This isn't an electricity problem. It's a human problem," the mayor said. 

A command center in the old Showcase Cinema parking lot is still active with Gov. Charlie Baker  on scene and Attorney General Maura Healey expected to arrive soon. 

A number of top state police officials and agents with National Transportation Safety Board are also here indefinitely. 

Rivera stressed that people are not supposed to be going back to their homes at this time. He and Police Chief Roy Vasque acknowledged that some people have gone back to their homes against the advice of emergency officials. 

"Today if everything goes well some people will be allowed to go back to their homes this evening," Rivera said. 

"When you do get home, open your windows immediately. If you smell gas, call Columbia Gas," Rivera stressed. 

"Columbia Gas is totally competent and able to provide service to their customers despite how I feel about how they handled this incident," Rivera said. 

"They have a responsibility and an ability to provide services to their customers," he added. 

Officials are expected to brief the press at 2 p.m. Saturday. Check back to eagletribune.com for updates.

11 A.M.

Gov. Charlie Baker, city and town officials and a spokesperson for Eversource are expected to update the media on the recovery from Thursday's gas and fire explosions in the Merrimack Valley at 2 p.m.

On Friday, Baker turned the utility recovery over to Eversource in frustration surrounding the Columbia Gas Co. response. Thousands of people were out of power and evacuated from their homes in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence on Thursday.

Expect regular updates to this story throughout the day at www.eagletribune.com.