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Residents Allowed To Return To Their Homes After Gas Explosions North Of Boston


People in three towns north of Boston were allowed to return to their homes yesterday. On Thursday, a series of gas explosions burned dozens of homes in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence. One man died when a chimney fell on his car, and others were injured. Lawrence mayor Dan Rivera joins us now. Thanks for taking the time today.

DAN RIVERA: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: Now that people have been told it's safe for them to go home, how do things feel in town today?

RIVERA: I've been - keep telling people that, you know, this is not a gas problem, and it's not an electricity problem. It's really, you know, a human problem. You know, we wanted to get the lights back on because we wanted people back in their homes, wanted a gas shut-off so they can be in their home safely. And so I think those two things, A, that you're in your home, and the lights are on, I think it goes a long way to say, you know, that the disaster is well on its way to being on the right side of things. And then normalcy will be set up.

SHAPIRO: There were 80 explosions in the region. That's a lot of people who now have either extreme damage to their house or no house at all. What are those people doing?

RIVERA: What we're trying to do is create places for people who need that type of help at that level to find a place to get support, kind of wraparound services that they need in order to make sure that - again, this idea of normalcy.

SHAPIRO: What do you know about why and how this happened?

RIVERA: You know, in the early stages of these problems, the focus is on how to fix the problems we have in front of us. I think the NTSB, and the federal government, the state government, they're going to get to the bottom of that. And I think why it happened to us has been really less important than how do we get ourselves back to normal.

SHAPIRO: That said, USA Today reports that the corporate parent of Columbia Gas is linked to three previous gas line bursts. There must be some desire in the city to hold the company accountable.

RIVERA: Yeah. Listen, you know, they're - Columbia Gas and their parent company are part of the rebuilding effort. It's - for us, it's important to keep them engaged in the things that - important to people, and that's fixing the problem that we have in front of us. But let's not be mistaken. We will hold everyone accountable, and everybody will pay their pound of flesh.

SHAPIRO: It sounds like you're in a really difficult position because, aside from the damage that has been done to your city, you - I can hear you saying or trying not to alienate the company that may well have been responsible for all this damage that was done to your city because you need their help in the recovery.

RIVERA: Yeah. Listen. I was the one that blew the whistle on them not being able to manage the disaster. And I had gotten to a point that I was so frustrated that I did not want to continue in the path that we're going. And so knowing that I was the one that did that, I also am the one that ought to make sure that I don't alienate them to the point where, you know, the claims process slows down or they, you know - you know, I'm not saying they're acting like a child, like, who doesn't get what they want, so they, you know, take their ball and go home. But I need an - I need a organization that's part of the team. So I don't think it's a tough situation. I think it's the way we deal with problems.

SHAPIRO: You're now telling people that it's safe to go home. How confident are you that this won't happen again?

RIVERA: Well, first of all, in the affected area there is no gas going to homes. And if there - if you have a gas service, those gas services have been shut off. So that's where we're - we feel it's safe. We wouldn't have turned the lights on if that was the case. And so knowing that the lights are on and the gas is off, I think we're in as safe a situation as we can be. Now, I will say that before they start distributing gas through the system again on, like, the first pilot, they're going to have a lot of work to make sure that the pilot is OK, make sure the appliance is OK, to make sure the pipes in the walls are OK. That's a, like, laundry list of things.

SHAPIRO: Does that mean people could be without gas for weeks or months?

RIVERA: You know, I don't know enough about this. But I'll tell you what we don't want is to rush the process to a point where it's unsafe. So safety before speed is what we're - I'm saying.

SHAPIRO: Mayor Dan Rivera of Lawrence, Mass. Thanks for joining us today.

RIVERA: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: And we have also reached out to Columbia Gas but have not yet received a response.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.