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Columbia Gas to pay $53M for blasts that damaged Mass. homes, killed 1

Explosions killed 1 and injured 10
Credit: FOX61

BOSTON —  Officials say a utility company will pay $53 million for breaking pipeline safety laws and causing a series of natural gas explosions that killed one person and damaged dozens of homes. 

Authorities said Wednesday that Columbia Gas of Massachusetts has agreed to plead guilty to violating the Pipeline Safety Act and pay the largest criminal fine ever imposed under the law. 

The explosions rocked three communities in the Merrimack Valley, north of Boston, in September 2018. The company said in an emailed statement that it takes full responsibility for the disaster. 

In a press conference, U.S. Attorneys said the company will pay a $53 million fine. The parent company, NiSource, will have to sell Columbia Gas and any profits will be paid to the government. NiSource will have to submit other gas subsidiaries to increased government scrutiny. 

Federal officials said there was a pattern of flagrant indifference and a wholesale management failure on the part of Columbia Gas.

The FBI says the company is being held criminally and financially accountable. The company says that it takes full responsibility for the disaster and that it is focused on enhancing safety and regaining customers' trust.  

A series of gas explosions an official described as "Armageddon" killed a teenager, injured at least 10 other people and ignited fires in at least 39 homes in three communities north of Boston, forcing entire neighborhoods to evacuate as crews scrambled to fight the flames and shut off the gas. 

Authorities said Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, died after a chimney toppled by an exploding house crashed into his car. 

Massachusetts State Police urged all residents with homes serviced by Columbia Gas in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover to evacuate, snarling traffic and causing widespread confusion as residents and local officials struggled to understand what was happening.