LAWRENCE (CBS) — Columbia Gas executives along with Gov. Charlie Baker, Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, and town managers gathered Wednesday to announce that the restoration efforts in the Merrimack Valley following the Sept. 13 explosions and fires is “substantially complete.”

“With natural gas service restored to 98 percent of residential and business customers, the project has reached a major milestone,” said a statement from the utility company.

Columbia Gas defines “substantially complete” as nearly all homes and businesses impacted have heat, hot water, and functioning gas appliances — there are 200 customers without gas service back. All of them “decided to ‘self-mitigate,’ or complete necessary assessments and installations themselves on their own timeline, independent of Columbia Gas contractors, or customers who have extenuating circumstances.”

The company said they would continue offering those customers service and the number will shrink to about 50 by the weekend.

“We expect Columbia Gas to remain in contact with this group until they return to normalcy,” said Baker.

The restoration project has included replacing 44 miles of gas main lines and 5,000 service lines in Lawrence, North Andover, and Andover. “The team has worked to restore heat and hot water to nearly 7,500 residential and business meters, and in the process has installed nearly 18,500 new appliances and pieces of equipment (i.e., boilers, furnaces, rangers, and dryers),” said Columbia Gas.

Over 24,417 claims have been filed said Columbia Gas, with 17,227 resolved to date. “$77.96 million has been paid out to customers, including $19.47 million to business customers.”

In the last few months, more than 2,200 families were displaced and utilized temporary housing provided by Columbia Gas and MEMA. As of Wednesday, there are 120 families in temporary housing.

“While this is obviously a significant milestone, it is not mission accomplished. There is still a tremendous amount of work to be done to permanently restore homes, refurbish communities, to pay claims. We will continue to have more details on this phase in the coming days,” said Baker.

He also applauded local leaders, Chief Recovery Officer Joe Albanese, and the public.

“For many families, the last three months have contained some of your darkest hours. The sadness, the frustration, the disruption of this incident, for you has been unparallel. But the spirit and the resiliency that you have shown across this region in the midst of all of this has been a bright spot for the rest of us here in Massachusetts. People have demonstrated overwhelming kindness by donating, providing meals, and taking people in for weeks,” said Baker.

Mayor Rivera thanked the governor, and then echoed his praise. “The patience that folks have shown, while people were digging in their lawns, showing up at all times of the night and of the day, while people were trying to get their equipment back in their house while they were in hotels far away, while they were playing with their kids in the trailers, or watching the World Series in the rec tents at the trailer park — the patience that folks have had, I can’t even talk enough about it. So thank you for not rioting, which you would have absolutely every reason to have done,” Rivera said.

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