ANDOVER, Mass. - Last September, an overpressurized gas line caused fires and explosions across three towns in the Merrimack Valley.
As many as 40 homes across Andover, North Andover and Lawrence caught fire, where as many as 18 of those fires were burning simultaneously. One person was killed and over 30,000 people had to evacuate their homes.
The response to the catastrophe and the subsequent recovery were immense challenges for the leaders of the communities affected.
On Friday, the Boston 25 News crew was joined by Andrew Flanagan, Town Manager of Andover, Andrew Maylor, Former Town Manager of North Andover and current Comptroller for the state of Massachusetts and the Mayor of Lawrence, Dan Rivera to discuss the difficulty the incident posed to their cities and towns.
"This whole event since Sept. 13 has been an issue of phases, so we started with a response phase which was the days after Sept. 13 and we've transitioned into recovery and now we're on a restoration phase," said Flanagan. "In an Andover town meeting this past Wednesday [we] approved a $20.8 million restoration plan that will be funded by Columbia Gas that will help us to move forward from some of the visual scars of Sept. 13 - to repair our roads, repair our sidewalks, repair the public spaces we utilized for public response purposes."
Flanagan added that the memories of Sept. 13 can still be seen around the town of Andover, but that throughout the next four years, as restoration efforts continue, "Andover is going to be a stronger community" in the end.
Maylor concurred with Flanagan on how the recovery and restoration phase were incredibly important to the community following the Merrimack Valley fires and explosions.
"Most people need to realize it's easy to us to identify on a calendar and on a time plot when the event occured, but what's more difficult is marking on a calendar when the event ends - and I think that, for many people the event will never end because it affected the personally - but I think there's great progress, the resilience of the people in the three communities has been extraordinary and I think that's really the message from this," said Maylor.
All three community leaders praised the efforts from first responders on the day of the explosions, saying the biggest challenge was acting quickly to ensure the safety of all residents.
Removing people from their homes was also another challenge mentioned, but there was also praise to the community members who were willing to work together and put safety ahead of anything else.
The recounted trying to understand the scope of the issue at the time, citing that as one of the greatest challenges associated with the incident. As the explosions happened, it was hard to quantify the damage, who had been affected and how to put in place a contingency plan.
"We have a lot of work to do, but I think we're making great progress," said Maylor.
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