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Thousands Fled Homes After Apparent Gas Explosions, Fires In Massachusetts

Firefighters inspect a home after gas explosions on Thursday in North Andover, Massachusetts. Gas explosions in three communities north of Boston left multiple homes on fire. Adam Glanzman/Getty Images hide caption toggle caption Adam Glanzman/Getty Images Firefighters inspect a home after gas explosions on Thursday in North Andover, Massachusetts. Gas explosions in three communities north…

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Thousands Fled Homes After Apparent Gas Explosions, Fires In Massachusetts

Firefighters inspect a home after gas explosions on Thursday in North Andover, Massachusetts. Gas explosions in three communities north of Boston left multiple homes on fire.

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Firefighters inspect a home after gas explosions on Thursday in North Andover, Massachusetts. Gas explosions in three communities north of Boston left multiple homes on fire.

Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Updated at 9:42 a.m. ET on Friday

Federal authorities have opened an investigation into a series of explosions that set off fires in several small towns in Massachusetts on Thursday night, killing one person and injuring several others.

The National Transportation Safety Board announced Friday that it is sending a team to investigate “what certainly appears to be multiple explosions involving a natural gas pipeline.”

An estimated 8,000 people have been displaced, according to local officials. Fred Thys of member station WBUR reports that residents may not be able to return home until Saturday.

Firefighters battle a house fire in North Andover, Mass., one of a series of fires and explosions on Thursday thought to have been triggered by a gas line that feeds several communities north of Boston.

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Firefighters battle a house fire in North Andover, Mass., one of a series of fires and explosions on Thursday thought to have been triggered by a gas line that feeds several communities north of Boston.

Mary Schwalm/AP

Massachusetts State Police have confirmed officials responded to 70 house fires, explosions or reports of gas odors — possibly caused by gas leaks — around the towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover on Thursday evening.

Officials urged all residents in the area who are Columbia Gas customers to evacuate, “as should anyone else who smells gas.”

MSP Fusion Center has current updated tally of responses to fires/explosions/investigations of gas odor at 70. Spread over wide swath of south #Lawrence and northern part of #NorthAndover with several others across Merrimack River in north Lawrence. pic.twitter.com/a7kBYaWFrJ

— Mass State Police (@MassStatePolice) September 13, 2018

“Columbia Gas has not said what went wrong,” Thys reported Friday. “State emergency management officials say ‘possible gas line over-pressurization’ could be the cause of [the] explosions.”

An 18-year-old man died when a chimney toppled by an explosion fell on his car in the city of Lawrence, according to the North Andover newspaper, The Eagle-Tribune. The newspaper said 10 people were injured in the gas explosions; however, Lawrence General Hospital reported earlier that 13 people were receiving treatment there.

Officials at the hospital said in a tweet that injuries included smoke inhalation and blast trauma and that one person in critical condition was transported to a Boston trauma center.

At least three people have been injured in Andover, including at least one firefighter, town officials said in a statement. It is unclear whether the people wounded in Andover are part of the group receiving care at Lawrence General Hospital.

At this hour, Lawrence General has received 13 patients as a result of the gas fires. One critical patient was transported to a Boston trauma center, the rest have been treated at Lawrence General. Injuries range from minor to smoke inhalation and blast trauma.

— Lawrence General (@LawrenceGenHosp) September 14, 2018

On Thursday night, Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera told residents they wouldn’t be able to go home that evening; state police said gas lines were being depressurized by the company but warned the process may take some time.

Gov. Charlie Baker said, “The depressurization of the lines in the shutdown was designed to ensure that there would be no more fires this evening,” although he added firefighters would continue to extinguish fires throughout the night.

Public schools in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover will be closed on Friday because of the fires.

A house in Lawrence, Mass., is destroyed.

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A house in Lawrence, Mass., is destroyed.

Mary Schwalm/AP

Andover Town Manager Andrew P. Flanagan, Police Chief Patrick E. Keefe and Fire Chief Michael Mansfield said Andover fire responders had put out a total of 35 fires. “At peak, 18 fires were burning at the same time,” they said, adding that all fires have been extinguished and fire crews will remain in the town throughout the evening.

Columbia Gas has been shutting off all service to customers in all three towns, MPS officials said in a tweet. Electric power was also turned off.

The Associated Press reported:

“Columbia Gas company had announced earlier Thursday that it would be upgrading gas lines in neighborhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions happened. It was not clear whether work was happening there Thursday, and a spokeswoman did not immediately comment.”

Before evacuating from North Andover, Jeremy Melvin described a chaotic scene near the plumbing shop where he works.

“We have people running to their cars. Multiple fires. There’s smoke lining from one end of my vision to the other,” Melvin told WBUR’s Lynn Jolicoeur.

State Police troopers and local police helped evacuate residents. Off-ramps into the towns were closed while on-ramps remained open to allow residents to get out of the affected areas.

Ra Nam (right), with his sons Evan (left) and Tristan (center), wait in a parking lot outside their Colonial Heights neighborhood in Lawrence, Mass., which was evacuated Thursday because of the fires and explosions.

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Ra Nam (right), with his sons Evan (left) and Tristan (center), wait in a parking lot outside their Colonial Heights neighborhood in Lawrence, Mass., which was evacuated Thursday because of the fires and explosions.

Phil Marcelo/AP

At one point, Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon told USA Today there were so many fires, “you can’t even see the sky.”

Reuters spoke to an evacuee named Guilia Holland:

“Holland, a 35-year-old mechanic in a wheelchair, said she had just gotten off a bus returning home when she saw ‘a big flash of light’ at the house where she had been renting a room for a month.

” ‘Good thing I wasn’t home or I wouldn’t be talking about it,’ she said outside an elementary school in Lawrence that the Red Cross had converted into a shelter for about 170 people.”

NPR’s Tovia Smith spoke to resident Elaine Almquist, who said she felt powerless.

“I could see smoke, helicopters, fire trucks, police cars, just constant sirens — my city’s literally burning to the ground,” Almquist told Smith.

“[Almquist] was able to get into her house and grab her cat before fleeing to her folks’ place, but with so many people evacuating at once she says the 15-minute trip took her two hours,” Smith reports. “And now she’s bracing for what may be days before she can go home.”

Teams — each with a police officer, a firefighter and a gas technician — are going door-to-door in the affected area, Smith says, checking on thousands of houses.

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Azerbaijan

Laza, the land of waterfalls – Photo Gallery

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Originally published by Caucasian Knot

The Azerbaijani village of Laza, about 200 km from the capital, Baku, is situated on a high-altitude plateau, Shah Yaylag. At the end of March when the snow starts to melt, tourists flock to Laza to see the waterfalls for which the area is famous. The locals, who are mostly ethnic Lezgins, earn a living by renting out cottages to tourists and offering visitors transportation in all-terrain vehicles in the winter.

Azeri Times presents this photo essay from Laza by Aziz Karimov, republished from Caucasian Knot.

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Azerbaijan

Opposition activist sentenced to 6 years in Azerbaijan

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On 18 September, the Baku Court for Serious Crimes sentenced a member of the youth committee of the opposition Popular Front of Azerbaijan Party (PFAP), Orkhan Bakhishli, to six years in prison.

Bakhishli was detained by men in plain clothes in downtown Baku on the evening of 7 May. On 10 May, the Yasamal District Court in Baku charged the youth activist with drug possession and ordered his detention for four months.

The PFAP has claimed that the charges against Bakhishli are trumped up and politically motivated. Several days before his arrest, on 3 May at a World Press Freedom Day event at the grave of journalist Elmar Huseynov, who was shot and killed in 2005, Bakhishli accused the Azerbaijani government of Huseynov’s murder.

Human rights activists consider Bakhishli a political prisoner. Previously, he served 30 days of administrative detention after being arrested ahead of a 31 March opposition rally.

In recent years, activists Ahsan Nuruzadeh, Murad Adilov, Bayram Mammadov, Giyas Ibrahimov, Elgiz Gahramanov, blogger Rashad Ramazanov and others have also been jailed on charges of drug possession.

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Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan a year after the LGBT raids: has anything changed in Europe’s most homophobic country?

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Azerbaijani society has never been tolerant toward sexual minorities, but no one expected the cruel and large-scale violence that occurred last year. At least a hundred people were humiliated, beaten and raped. People who were suspected of being gay were blackmailed and warned not to walk in the central streets of Baku. Meydan TV investigated the possible reasons for the police violence immediately after it happened last year and we now return to this topic to find out what has changed in Azerbaijan over the past year.

I felt like I had done something terrible

“I was absolutely desperate. I was leading a repulsive life: I drank a lot, I used drugs,” Ali recalls September 2017 (all names have been changed). He says that the “repulsive” life he led seemed to help him forget what he had experienced for a while: like many other gay Azeris, Ali was detained in a surprise raid in downtown Baku. He spent several days at a police station. It still is not easy for him to talk about what he experienced – in response to every questions he says that many people, for example, transgender people, had an even harder time than he did. “Not only did they call them the filthiest words and beat them, they also shaved their heads, which was the most humiliating thing for them,” Ali says.

Ali had never advertised his sexuality but it became obvious for people around him after police detained him. “I felt like I had done something terrible and that I was persecuted for it. My landlord kicked me out of the apartment I was renting, and my friends and loved ones turned away from me,” Ali recalls.

Ali gradually did manage to return to normal life – there were kind people who helped him while he was looking for a job. Unlike Ali, another gay man who was detained, Murad, had a certain amount of money which helped him flee the country. Murad left immediately after he was released from the police station and now lives in Turkey: “I wanted to move to Norway, but I was denied a visa.”

Murad has not been successful in finding a job and it seems he will have to go back home soon. “Of course I’m afraid, of course I don’t want to go back. I’d stay here if I could. At least there’s an LGBT community in Turkey, and they help each other,” Murad says.

 

Four brave lawyers

According to official statistics, police detained 83 people during the LGBT raids in Baku in September 2017.

“Thirty-three people filed lawsuits for illegal arrest and cruel treatment after they were released,” said Gulnara Mehdiyeva, a representative of the human rights organization Minority Azerbaijan and a member of the local LGBT alliance Nefes (Breath). Gulnara says that apart from physical and moral damages, those detained also incurred material damages:

“They were jailed for different terms, some for 10 or 15 days and some for 20 or 30 days. Many lost their jobs because their employers refused to take them back after their long absence,” Gulnara Mehdiyeva says.

Four lawyers agreed to defend the rights of the LGBT people affected. One of them, Samad Rahimli, says that judges rejected all the complaints. The same 33 people sent complaints to prosecution agencies, but prosecution agencies did not find any criminal wrongdoing.

Azerbaijani rights activist Kamala Aghazadeh believes that lawsuits will not produce results while the country has no law defending LGBT people from discrimination. “Society absolutely needs a law that would guarantee the protection of LGBT rights,” she said. Perhaps, the adoption of such a law would remove Azerbaijan from the list of the most homophobic European countries which Azerbaijan has led for four consecutive years now.

A month after the raids, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks sent a letter to Azerbaijan’s Interior Minister in which he called for “thorough investigations into serious allegations of human rights violations of LGBT persons recently arrested and detained in Baku”.
No reaction followed from the Azerbaijani government.

 

Four suicides and five murders

Samad Ismayilov, the director of Minority Azerbaijan magazine, said that four LGBT people committed suicide in Azerbaijan in 2017. Ismayilov said that specialized organizations recorded five murders which presumably were anti-LGBT hate crimes over the year. He said those were average annual figures.

“However, these are only cases that we have managed to learn about. In reality, there are many more crimes of this kind,” he said. According to Ismayilov, activists were not able to find out even an approximate number of members of the LGBT community in Azerbaijan because most people hid their sexual orientation.

Samad said no raids or large-scale assaults on gays had been recorded in Azerbaijan in 2018, but several trans people were at the police station the other day. “They were summoned to the police, asked several questions and released. However, we do not understand the reason for this interest, nor did we understand it last year,” Samad said.


Produced with the support of the Russian Language News Exchange

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