The utility involved in a series of natural gas explosions and fires in three Massachusetts communities last month acknowledged Friday it would not meet its original Nov. 19 deadline for restoring gas service to all its customers.
Columbia Gas set a new timeline for complete restoration of between Dec. 2 and Dec. 16, but officials added they expected most residents and businesses to have heat and hot water back before then.
Thousands of customers in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover have been without gas service since the Sept. 13 disaster as the utility replaces some 50 miles of gas pipeline.
One person was killed and 25 others injured in the explosions and fires that damaged 131 structures and destroyed five homes. A preliminary report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board this month found over-pressurized natural gas lines as the source, but the investigation is continuing.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday called the recovery “painful, frustrating and inconvenient.”
“As these challenges persist, we all know the temperatures are dropping,” said the governor, who urged residents without heat and hot water to consider taking advantage of temporary housing being offered to them in trailers, apartments and hotels.
Overnight temperatures dropped to near freezing in much of the region.
Baker also called for improved communication between Columbia Gas and affected residents.
Joe Albanese, who was brought in by state officials to oversee the recovery effort, said crews are ahead of schedule in replacing pipeline. The key stumbling block, however, has been assessing damage on a house-by-house basis and replacing damaged gas lines, burners and appliances so they are safe to receive gas.
Officials say crews will now in some cases make temporary repairs to burners so heat and hot water can be restored, with the promise that the equipment will be permanently replaced at a later time.
“Each day that goes past our deadline is a day too long,” said Albanese, adding that Columbia Gas is also bringing in three more contractors to add to the manpower involved in the restoration.
“We understand the urgency you all have to return home and reopen your businesses. It’s cold outside. The hardship and inconvenience created by this incident is more than just disruptive and devastating,” said Albanese.
To date, the utility said it had relit 1,040 residential and business meters, and installed hundreds of new water heaters, boilers, furnaces, dryers and ranges.
Pablo Vegas, chief restoration officer for Columbia Gas, said the company is doing all it can to reduce suffering by customers.
“But we have to do more,” said Vegas. “Every individual, family and business owner that has been impacted by the events of Sept. 13 deserve to know when their lives will be returned to normal.”
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