Merrimack Valley Gas Explosion Lawsuits Settled for $143 Million

Last year, the Columbia Gas explosions set off more than 120 fires in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.

Photo via AP Photo/Mary Schwalm

Columbia Gas, the company linked to the gas explosions that leveled five homes, killed an 18-year-old man, and set the Merrimack Valley ablaze last September, settled class actions lawsuits related to the incident for $143 million Monday morning, according to parties involved in the case.

The company has already made arrangements to pay out $80 million to the affected communities—Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover—and also made a separate settlement with the family of Lionel Rondon, the man who was killed when a chimney crushed the car he was sitting in.

The funds will be available to affected residents and businesses through a claims process until the settlement is approved by the court, after which an independent claims administrator will take control.

The September 13 explosions wreaked unprecedented havoc upon the Merrimack Valley communities. When a construction mistake caused the pipelines beneath Lawrence to over-pressurize, houses began to explode, and the city had to be evacuated. Thousands were rendered homeless and forced to live in temporary housing for months.

In the months after the explosions, more and more details began to emerge regarding the role Columbia Gas played in the incident. In the years leading up to the disaster, the company, tasked with the expensive endeavor of replacing miles of leaky pipes, underwent a staffing restructuring in an attempt to cut costs.

The company has also taken heat for its sluggish response after the explosions began. Columbia was so slow to turn off the gas flow and shut down customers’ meters that Governor Charlie Baker eventually declared a state of emergency, putting Eversource in charge of handling the fallout. The gas lines and meters were not all off until over 60 hours after the incident began.