On a recent sunny Sunday morning, neighbors talked in their yards and a young couple wearing matching Patriots shirts pushed a stroller down the street. They were walking down Chickering Road in Lawrence, past number 35, where a house once stood, and then in an instant, collapsed.

A chain link fence frames what is now a vacant lot. A small tractor sits in the corner, weeds sprouting around it. Yellow “caution” and red “danger asbestos” tape further wall off the site from the street. A blue tarp lays over what was once the house’s footprint.

I thought back to one year ago, when I was driving towards 35 Chickering Road a day after a series of gas line explosions rocked the Merrimack Valley, resulting in widespread fires, evacuations and a chaotic scene. Like the many other journalists who had flocked to the area to cover the disaster, I was there to document the extent of the damage and its impact on the people who lived there. I parked a quarter mile away and, with my cameras slung over my shoulders, walked towards the distant flashing blue lights.

The extent of the damage to the house at 35 Chickering Road is revealed the morning after the gasline explosions that rocked Lawrence and the Merrimack Valley on September 13, 2018.
Meredith Nierman WGBH

As I neared the home, a small group of photographers stood in front of the police line. I turned my gaze in the direction of their lenses. In the distance was a home collapsed in on itself. Its chimney had toppled onto the driveway, striking a car, where 18-year-old Leonel Rondon happened to be sitting. Rondon was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where he was pronounced dead.

In the days that followed, a clearer picture began to emerge about the extent of the disaster and its impact on the communities of Andover, North Andover and Lawrence. The explosion that killed Rondon was one of about 80 fires caused by an overpressured gas line. More than 20 people were injured, thousands were displaced, and thousands more were left without heat or hot water for months.

Back on Chickering Road, life goes on for passersby, for neighboring communities and for those of us covering an ever-quickening news cycle. But it doesn’t go on for Rondon. And it remains challenging for those still struggling to rebuild their lives one year later.

In the middle of the empty lot, past the chain link fence, the weeds and the tractor, a few remaining bricks of the chimney serve as a reminder of what was lost that night.