UPDATE: Most South Lawrence evacuees can return home starting Friday at 3 p.m.
by Jill Harmacinski, Eagle Tribune
At a press conference just before 2 p.m. Friday, Mayor Daniel Rivera said most residents evacuated due to a natural gas leak in a South Lawrence neighborhood earlier in the day will be able to return to their homes starting at 3 p.m.
Rivera said the city will provide buses to take the residents from a shelter at the Arlington Middle School back to their homes because none of them have their own vehicles. They were taken to the shelter by buses earlier in the day.
Rivera, other city officials and Gov. Charlie Baker said the source of the gas leak has been discovered and is in the process of being repaired.
Officials stressed it is safe for residents to return to their homes, except for those who live on South Broadway between Merrimack and Andover streets and on Carver Street. Gas and power to homes not in those specific areas have been turned back on, but will remain shut off in those areas, which are close to the source.
Officials said gas and power to those remaining homes will be turned on as soon as it is determined to be safe. More announcements on that situation will be coming today.
Rivera said the leak is not related to the larger gas pipe system in the area that was replaced after last year's disaster.
"There is no public safety concern," the mayor said. "This is an isolated incident.
"I am relieved the source has been found and they are in the process of fixing it."
He said another gas leak reported at Lenox Circle, which is not near the evacuation area, was not related to the larger leak and involved "just a loose connection at meter."
Baker said state utilities officials will remain in the evacuation area, as Columbia Gas repairs the leak and will keep a close eye on all work done.
"It (the leak) is not something that's happening across the footprint of last year's issue," he said. "We wouldn't let people back home if there was a bigger issue."
The mayor and governor refused to give specifics about the cause of the leak, saying they are still collecting information and want to avoid giving out erroneous or a partial explanation.
They said once they have the complete story behind the leak, they will release that information to the public.
Rivera said he and his family were among the people evacuated due to the leak. He stressed that officials are considering the nuisance to residents.
"This is a human incident that has affected a lot of people," he said.
Those comments echoed what Rivera said repeatedly after the disaster: that Columbia Gas and community leaders must consider not only repairs to the gas system but the effect on residents who were displaced from homes and suffered other hardships.