Andover resident Deborah Day-Cummings walks up High Street to a small group of police, gas workers and a locksmith with a fistful of keys. When she reaches them, she begins rattling off names and house numbers. Each key unlocks one of her neighbor’s houses. This morning, with their permission, she’s passing them along to help local officials check houses for gas.

“I’m a neighbor. I live just a couple houses up, and fortunately, a lot of people know and trust each other here, and I have keys to a number of these houses,” said Day-Cummings. “So I’m going house to house with the keys that I have so people can have their houses checked.”

Days after dozens of gas-related explosions and fires rocked the Merrimack Valley, local officials are continuing to work to get residents back in their homes after many were told to evacuate.

Officials have said it could take weeks before residents are back in their homes with full electricity and gas usage.

In parts of Andover, North Andover and Lawrence, local police, fire and hundreds of gas workers from Columbia Gas and Eversource are hitting the streets to check houses for the presence of gas.

Checked houses without gas inside are then cleared for residents to return to them, although electricity remains out in portions of all three towns.

Andover fire and police officials say that as of this morning, more than half of the 2,078 gas meters affected in town have been checked and cleared.

Deborah Day-Cummings helps crews check houses in her neighborhood for gas
Amanda Beland

A crew of two gas workers from Columbia Gas, one police officer, and a locksmith took to High Street in Andover today to complete those checks.

As the crew of four walks down High Street, house by house, some homeowners are sitting on their stoops waiting for them so their locks don’t have to be broken. Some residents are loading boxes of belongings from their homes into their cars.

The crews follow the same process for checking homes.

If there’s no key or resident there to let them in, the locksmith opens the front door. Gas workers use a meter to check gas levels near the front door. If the house is safe to enter, the crew announces their presence — in case someone is in the house — and heads for the gas meter, which is usually in the basement. Once at the meter, the gas is turned off and the crews lock up and leave.

The crew has just cleared a house on the corner of High Street and Walnut Avenue as Deborah Day-Cummings rounds the corner with her keys.

“You should hire me!” says Day-Cummings to the locksmith.

Day-Cummings has lived in Andover for 20 years. She says she’s been staying in her house on High Street and has been since Thursday, even though a house a couple up from hers caught fire. She says the community is very close.

“You know who’s a familiar face and who’s a stranger,” said Day-Cummings. “We’ve lived here for a number of years and so you build up friendships and trust.”

The crew that Day-Cummings is assisting is also checking a road off High Street called Hartigan Court.

Rebecca Joyner lives here with her three children and husband. They’re currently staying in Haverhill with family after evacuating on Thursday. Joyner says they returned to their house yesterday to grab stuff from the fridge and turn off their gas.

"We’re in contact with our neighbors so they [the gas workers] can get into peoples homes so we can move forward and get our power turned back on and come home,” said Joyner.

The crew approaches a house next door to Joyner’s. Her husband calls the owner while the locksmith assesses the front door. He turns around to tell the gas workers and police officer that the front screen door and the front door are locked. The crew searches for another way in. Without keys, a locksmith has to manipulate the lock to get into the house. Some residents have left signs on their doors with special instructions, like “be careful for dog.” Some of those notes instruct the crews not to break the locks or enter the house.

“We are talking about leaving notes on each other’s doors and which doors are open to try to help move this all along more quickly, if possible,” said Joyner.

Joyner’s husband gets off the phone with his neighbor, who says he does not want his house entered.

The crew heads back down the front walk and to the next house.

“It’s mostly been just an inconvenience for us so we’re really lucky,” said Joyner. “We’re thinking about our neighbors in Andover and Lawrence and North Andover who got hit a lot worse,” said Joyner. “We’re hoping to get some answers from Columbia Gas about what happened.”

Andover has said National Grid intends to have electricity returned to all affected customers within 24 hours.

A full list of cleared streets in all three towns can be found through the websites of each town.