Columbia Gas hosts job fair in Lawrence to help with gas restoration efforts

LAWRENCE, Mass. — It could be a long, cold winter for those directly affected by the gas explosions and fires in the Merrimack Valley. Just over a week after gas explosions and fires ripped through Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, Columbia Gas is now saying that customers in the impacted area likely won't have gas service for months, until a new pipeline is constructed.

On Saturday, Columbia Gas hosted a job fair in Lawrence looking for skilled plumbers, electricians and IT professionals to help with gas restoration efforts and aid those affected by the explosions and fires.

Officials announced on Friday that hot plates and 24,000 space heaters will be provided to Merrimack Valley residents affected by the explosions and fires while work is done to restore the gas pipelines.

Electricians will determine if the homes can host those appliances and local fire departments will assist in installing them.

Utility officials pledged Friday to complete the replacement of 48 miles of natural gas pipeline by November 19.

>> Read: Sen. Markey, Sen. Warren letter to Columbia Gas on additional safety questions

Residents should expect to see teams working with Columbia Gas in their communities in the next coming weeks. Teams assisting with restoration efforts will have ID badges stating they're authorized visitors with Columbia Gas. Residents are advised to call the resident helpline at 866-388-3239 with any questions or concerns.

Columbia Gas said in a statement posted on their website Thursday that customers who were directly impacted by the incident -- about 8,600 customers who are served by the 48-mile cast-iron pipeline that will be replaced -- will be without gas for "several months." That would leave customers without heat, hot water and gas for cooking during the winter months.

"We are turning gas service back on for the customers whose service was turned off but who are not on the gas system impacted by the incident. We expect restoration to take several months for those on the system directly impacted by the incident."

>> Read: Columbia Gas statement on restoration to the affected area

For those outside of the affected area, Columbia Gas says there are about 320 customers remaining who are awaiting restoration. More crews will be working Friday to get those homes and businesses reconnected.

Governor Charlie Baker is scheduled to speak at a news conference at 11 a.m. Friday on the long-term pipeline restoration plan with the CEO of Columbia Gas' parent company, NiSource, and officials from the three affected towns.

Source of gas explosions

Investigators on Thursday appear to be focused on one intersection in Lawrence as the possible 'ground zero' of last week's gas explosions.

A law enforcement source tells Boston 25 News the intersection of South Union and Salem streets is being scrutinized by investigators as a possible trigger point for the gas explosions. Utility crews were working in the hole just before the gas explosions and fires broke out on Sept. 13, the source said.

A handful of state police and Columbia Gas workers were at the intersection Thursday shutting down traffic and marking gas lines with spray point.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Wyshak was also on scene, examining a large hole at the intersection with officials from the FBI and NTSB. The Massachusetts State Police were seen flying a drone over the area.

There is still no clear answer on exactly what happened, but according to a letter from the Democratic U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey last week to executives of the utility in charge of the pipelines, the pressure was 12 times higher than it should have been at the time of the explosions.

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