February 25, 2024

Gordon Community Affected by Merrimack Valley Gas Fires

By Jonathan Chandra ’19
News Editor

A sudden and tragic series of gas fires in the Merrimack Valley has affected members of the Gordon College community.

At around 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, fires and explosions began in buildings in Andover, Lawrence, and North Andover, the result of an overpressurized gas main. Though the fires—over 60 of them—are now contained, one man is dead and upwards of 20 are injured. Many neighborhoods have been evacuated, and Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker has declared a state of emergency in the areas.

As well as having connections to Lawrence through the Office of Service Learning (OSL) and the Education department, Gordon has close to 40 members of its community—undergrads, graduate students, employees, and faculty—with listed residences in the surrounding towns. Some affected students responded to the Tartan for comment.

Lawrence native Ana Rodriguez ‘20 shared that though her family is safe, the repercussions of the fires have greatly affected her community, and death has hit close to home.

“Unfortunately, many of my close friends and relatives have been dislocated. Many are not even sure of when they will be able to return to their homes. My younger brother lost a friend his age due to the explosions and it was just a reminder that it could have easily been him.”

Abby Moline ‘21 is from neighboring North Reading, but has strong ties with the affected communities. Andover is the town of her church, as well as the site of a theater camp she had attended some years ago. Close family friends from Lawrence turned to her family for help.

“They had to evacuate, they’re actually out in my house right now,” she said.

Though some homes were unaffected by the fires, work and daily life have been put on hold. The family of Andoverite Julia Murphy ‘21 is safe—they live two miles away from the most highly impacted area and heat their house with oil, not gas. On Thursday, Murphy’s mother had to evacuate work at a downtown library, while her sister’s workplace was shut down.

Murphy’s family has remained at home, though some of her neighbors have evacuated.

“I’ve been checking on Facebook constantly and everyone I grew up with is safe, but that doesn’t make it any less scary. It’s extremely heartbreaking to know that all of this is happening so close to my home and affecting so many people right now,” she said.

Gordon’s OSL has done work with the Oliver Partnership School in Lawrence, with college students volunteering to be “lunch buddies” or “reading buddies” with the children, as well as helping out with extracurricular clubs. The elementary school held their annual field day at Gordon in May.

OSL Director Gregory Bish, who has been closely following the situation, stressed that while they have volunteers ready to respond, the office is hoping to partner with nonprofits with more experience and situational understanding.

“We are monitoring our partners and preparing a team of volunteers if a need arises for outside volunteers . . . due to the declaration of a State of Emergency, limited road usage, no electricity, etc. we are not planning to send in volunteers into the city until we hear from one of our partners about a specific need.”

Through the tragedy, students like Rodriguez cling to hope. She ended her email to the Tartan with the following statement:

“Our community is completely devastated by such massive losses but I am certain our resilience and unity will help us rise above. I ask that the Gordon community keep the city of Lawrence and the surrounding areas in your thoughts and prayers, as well as the family that lost their son last night.”

To help the relief efforts financially, donate to the Lawrence Community Fund at: https://secure.etransfer.com/EFT/BlockCode/donation1.cfm?d2org=EssexCCF&d2tool=funds

Other ways to help:

Have you or your loved ones been affected by the gas fires? Send us your stories to [email protected].

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