By Courtney Duffy, Camille Storch, Sarah Long and Karen Phung

Some Andover residents did not receive a call to evacuate houses that had a risk of exploding from a gas leak last Thursday.

The gas leak was caused by over-pressurized pipes serviced by Columbia Gas on the Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence grids. Most citizens were notified by the CodeRED program that there was an emergency and that they needed to “shut their gas off and get out.” But many residents did not receive the call and had to be notified by neighbors, the news, or calls and texts from loved ones.

In order to receive CodeRED notifications, you must sign up for the program on the Town of Andover website. 

“I feel a little shaken that something could have happened to my house and I didn’t get any alert to it,” said AHS junior Michael Long. He, along with others, did not know what CodeRED was, or how to sign up for it.

The citizens of the town were mainly shocked when they found out about the surreal experience. Long went on to say, “I was confused at first on what had happened, and took a few minutes to wrap my head around what had just occurred.” A situation like this is uncommon for the residents of this quaint town north of Boston.

After word spread, Andover families were seen trying to escape this tragedy. “I think calling was good in the sense of urgency, like if you get a call it’s better than like someone going to people’s houses one by one,” Shohini Lala, a freshmen at AHS, said, “but also getting the call and giving little information and others finding out through the news and friends was kinda chaotic. It was just chaos everywhere, people rushing to get to cars. They definitely could have handled it a little smoother because everyone was confused and panicking, so we just got this one call that was like, ‘Hey, our houses are blowing up.’” 

Many questioned the actual amount of danger that was about to happen when they received the alert, but some knew something was brewing before the call was sent out. AHS sophomore Zack Clement was with his family at the time. He said, “We first realized that there was an emergency because we turned on the stove and the flames that came out were like a foot long, but shortly after that we got a phone call.”

The gas leak was also discovered by some people as their kitchens were filled with the smell of gas, but they thought it was only a leak in their own homes.

A couple minutes later, Clement received a phone call on his landline telling him that he needed to evacuate the house. “Andover did a decent job, yet they could have given us a bit more information,” recalled Clement. “The phone call only said that there was an issue with the gas; they didn’t say in Lawrence that there were houses catching on fire.”

Mrs. Johnson, an AHS English teacher, was alerted of the state of emergency her town was in but was taken aback when she found out that not everyone got a call. “I don’t know how [people didn’t get notified] because I wasn’t aware that people didn’t get a robo-call. I think that, obviously, it’s disconcerting…,” she said.

“I think that’s the hardest part,” she continued, “until you have the information it’s really hard to come up with a plan and to think about what you should do for you and your family.” Although Johnson wasn’t amongst those that didn’t receive a call, she can relate to people’s fright as she has a family. Without obtaining the proper facts about what’s happening, things are scarier than they may really be.

Ms. Parsons, AHS teacher and Andover resident, received a call on her home phone line. Parsons did not receive a CodeRED alert on her cell as she was not aware that it existed at the time or how to even sign up. “I was not signed up at that time to a CodeRED to my cell phone. I am now.”

Parsons found it through the Andover website where a steady amount of people have been signing up after this past week’s emergency. Parsons also added that she knew that the open house night was canceled and all staff and students must evacuate the school prior to finding out about the gas leak.

Contacted Thursday, a member of the town’s tech department who asked not to be identified, spoke of how residents should sign up for the program. “They would have to call the public safety center and they would register their number for CodeRED,” she said. She explained how the calls work, and summed up why some residents didn’t receive a call. CodeRED is a mandatory site to sign up for if you want to receive calls from the town.

She ended, “The governor and staff and the town manager are all meeting at least once, sometimes twice a day, to get [the gas leak incidents] issue resolved.”

This is one in a series of articles reported by the students of the Newspaper Production class following gas explosions and fires in Andover, Lawrence, and North Andover last week.