Massachusetts Gas Explosion: Teen Crushed to Death by Chimney as Dozens of Blasts Rock Neighborhoods

Leonel Rondon, 18, was sitting in a car when a brick chimney that was loosened from a house explosion landed on the vehicle.
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Leonel Rondon, 18, was sitting in a car when a brick chimney broke of an exploding home and landed on his car.

One teenager was killed and at least 20 people were injured as a series of explosions tore through several Massachusetts communities Thursday, forcing thousands to evacuate. 

Fire departments battled 10-alarm fires as homes and even a church burst into flames in the towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover. 

Leonel Rondon, 18, was sitting in a car when a brick chimney loosened from an exploding home landed on the vehicle, the Essex County District Attorney’s office said. 

He had recently gotten his driver’s license and was sitting in the car with two friends, loved ones told WHDH-TV

Rondon was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he died at about 8:30 p.m., officials said. His two friends remained hospitalized Thursday.

They were among the 20 or so injured in the fires, the likes of which seasoned first responders said they had never before seen.

“This has been an overwhelming event," Andover Fire Rescue Chief Michael B. Mansfield told reporters. "I have been in the fire service for almost 39 years and I have never seen anything like this in my entire career ... It looked like Armageddon; it really did."

Six people, including one firefighter, were being treated at Lawrence General Hospital. Two of those patients were in critical condition.

“We continue to prepare for multiple casualties. The hospital is fully operational with additional doctors, nurses and ancillary staff in all areas,” the hospital tweeted.

Authorities estimated between 60 and 100 fires were ignited in the area, as terrified residents poured out into the streets in fear of their own homes filling with gas. 

Approximately 20 teams — each consisting of a police officer, firefighter and natural gas technician — went house-to-house, visiting about 8,600 affected natural gas customers to verify gas meters were shut off and if not, to shut them off.

Gas service will not be restored to the areas until the Columbia Gas company determines it is safe. 

"We expect this will be an extended restoration effort, and we will work tirelessly to restore service to the affected customers," the company said a statement early Friday.

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera noted residents would not be allowed home until crews inspected every house to make sure there were no gas leaks.

"We are not sure that's going to be anytime soon. Make plans for at least between now and this time tomorrow," Rivera told reporters early Friday.

The Red Cross opened reception centers for those affected by the fires and explosions in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover. 

“Many homes have been destroyed and people are under an evacuation notice; this could turn into a long-term response,” the Red Cross tweeted. "We have workers and supplies on site now, but will need more as we go. The best way you can help is by donating: 1-800-RED-CROSS or"