Massachusetts State Police said a total of 70 fires, explosions or investigations of gas odour had been reported.

The multiple explosions in suburbs near Boston were apparently triggered by a natural gas pipeline rupture.
The multiple explosions in suburbs near Boston were apparently triggered by a natural gas pipeline rupture. (Reuters)

Dozens of explosions, apparently triggered by a natural gas pipeline rupture, rocked three communities near Boston on Thursday, killing at least one person, injuring 12 and prompting the evacuation of hundreds, officials said.

The blasts left dozens of homes and other buildings demolished or engulfed in flames as firefighters from some 50 departments raced for hours from one blaze to another and utility crews rushed to shut off gas and electricity in the area to prevent further ignitions.

Police drove up and down streets with bull horns telling residents to vacate their homes immediately.

Fire investigators suspected "over-pressurisation of a gas main" belonging to Columbia Gas of Massachusetts led to the series of explosions and fires, Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield said.

TRT World's Reagan Des Vignes reports.

Columbia Gas, a unit of the utility giant NiSource Inc , announced earlier on Thursday that it would be upgrading gas lines in neighborhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions occurred. However, it was not immediately known whether any work was being done in those communities at the time.

"Columbia Gas is investigating what happened on its system today," NiSource spokesman Ken Stammen said.

The US Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said it was sending a team to support the state's emergency response efforts.

The former head of the agency, Brigham McCown, called the series of gas explosions "unprecedented, at least in recent memory."

"I can't think of a series of natural gas-related incidents like this," McCown, who led PHMSA under President George W. Bush, told Reuters by telephone. "We have had similar issues on a much smaller scale."

He said the National Transportation Safety Board was also sending a team headed by its chairman, Robert Sumwalt, to investigate the disaster.

Gas utilities under scrutiny

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.

Friday's conflagrations came six years after Columbia Gas accepted blame for a gas explosion in Springfield, Massachusetts, that injured 17 people and caused an estimated $1.3 million in property damage

That occurred when a Columbia Gas technician called to investigate a gas odor at a nightclub accidentally punctured a line, the state Department of Public Utilities said in a report.

Source: Reuters