Dozens of fires and explosions broke out in three small Massachusetts cities tonight. Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover have been evacuated, and power has been cut off to prevent more houses from blowing up. People are injured. Many have lost their homes. And at least one man is dead, because his chimney fell onto his car.
The news isn't talking about causes except to say it was an overpressurized gas line. How did the gas line get overpressurized? How did it get so overpressurized that dozens of separate buildings, across three separate municipalities, actually exploded? No one is willing to say yet, because the obvious culprit is an energy company and speaking too soon might get a paper or TV station sued. The Governor of Massachusetts has gone on TV to say that we can talk about causes after people are back in their homes, which is fair enough as far as it goes. But there's still no timeline for getting people back in their homes.
But it's hard to see a whole lot of other explanations here. Columbia Gas of Massachusetts was planning to do some upgrades in the area today, and now all three cities are a disaster area. And the company's enjoying a whole lot of public deference, considering those facts.
I still have friends in that area, because I went to high school in Lawrence. I was actually planning a visit for next week.
For those of you who aren't from the area, Lawrence is one of the poorest cities in Massachusetts, with a heavy minority and immigrant population. It's squeezed right up against the very affluent Andover and the more economically mixed North Andover. Lawrence has three times the population of the other two cities, squeezed into a smaller area. It was basically carved out as a separate city for factory workers back when the Merrimack River was a booming industrial belt. The point was that those workers would not share a town with their more affluent neighbors.
Lawrence is more than three-quarters Latinx. It has the lowest per-capita income in Massachusetts. Andover is more than ninety percent white, with a median household income over a hundred and ten thousand a year. And it's the home to an extremely wealthy prep school, Phillips Andover Academy. Phillips Andover is the boarding school where the Bushes went. So somehow this disaster managed to set both a poor city and a rich one on fire.
I'm not going to exaggerate Lawrence's poverty. It's not some fearmongering cable-news fantasy of The Ghetto. It has some perfectly nice middle-class neighborhoods. The school I went to, a regional Catholic school, has a good share of affluent students. But Lawrence definitely did not need this, and it won't be easy for a lot of the people affected to recover. This is a major disaster, and Columbia Gas needs to explain.
[UPDATE: Columbia Gas of Massachusetts is now officially the villain here, just because their disaster response has been so un-responsive. The Governor, Republican Charlie Baker, has declared the region a disaster area so he can take cleanup away from Columbia Gas and hand it over to another, more functional, gas company. This happened after Baker and Elizabeth Warren got a tour of Lawrence 1. filled with catastrophic damage and 2. empty of Columbia Gas repair crews. The Mayor of Lawrence denounced Columbia at length, in damning detail, on live TV. So the most likely suspects behind the disaster have been conspicuously unhelpful in fixing their damned mess.]
cross-posted from Dagblog. All comments welcome there, not here.