Massachusetts residents are back in their homes after a series of gas explosions and fires shook three communities—Lawrence, Andover and North Andover—in the Merrimack Valley on Sept. 13. The disaster killed one resident and forced 40,000 people to evacuate their homes.
“It’s been tough. There is a lot of hurt going on in the community, but we are resilient. We are going to recover,” says Lawrence Teachers Union President Frank McLaughlin, who drove around the city on Sept. 16 to check on some of the affected areas. According to McLaughlin, at least four LTU members lost homes, and 60 members suffered property damage.
Over the weekend following the explosions, many AFT Massachusetts members who live or work near the disaster volunteered at Lawrence schools that served as shelters to help distribute donated items to area residents.
“Teachers were there giving out clothing, toiletries and food, but mostly they were a familiar and friendly face to students,” says Beth Kontos, president of AFT Massachusetts.
Although residents have been allowed to return to their homes, only their electricity has been restored. Officials say gas service may be out for weeks. “No gas means no hot water for cooking and eventually heat. It’s still warm, but in New England, it won’t be long before we will need heat,” says Kontos.
In the meantime, gas and electric services have been restored to all school buildings in the Lawrence Public School system allowing students to return to school on Sept. 18. It's a move that seems premature for some, Kontos says, but others are glad to have some normalcy.
AFT Massachusetts is focused on helping members get back on their feet, gathering member information and providing resources and gift cards to those in need.
The AFT has set up a disaster relief fund for the Merrimack Valley gas explosions. Please consider making a donation to those directly impacted in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.