Suspected natural gas blast kills 5 people in Pennsylvania
The blast leveled 2 row houses and severely damaged 6 others beyond repair, Allentown Fire Chief Robert Scheirer said at a news conference.
Thu, Feb 10, 2011 at 05:15 PM
EXPLOSION: Emergency workers dug up the street to gain access to the lines because they could not get close enough to lines in the burning houses or under the sidewalk. (Photo: jupiterimages)
PITTSBURGH - A fiery blast suspected of being set off by natural gas killed five people, including an infant, and destroyed several houses in Allentown, Pennsylvania, authorities said on Thursday.
The blast, which occurred about 11 p.m. local time on Wednesday, leveled two row houses and severely damaged six others beyond repair, Allentown Fire Chief Robert Scheirer said at a news conference.
Authorities recovered the bodies of a 4-month-old boy, a 16-year-old girl, a 69-year-old woman and a 79-year-old man, and said they were still searching for the body of the fifth victim. Everyone else was accounted for, they said.
Specially trained dogs were being used to search through the debris.
The victims were members of two families who lived in the two rowhouses leveled by the blast. Their identities were not immediately released.
A 95-year-old man who lived across the street and had been unaccounted for, had been located, authorities said.
Eight other people were treated for minor injuries.
The cause of the blast remained under investigation.
"Preliminary indications look like it was a gas explosion that resulted in an explosion and a fire," said Allentown Police Captain George Medero.
Gas lines were shut off by about 3:45 a.m. on Thursday, authorities said. Emergency workers dug up the street to gain access to the lines because they could not get close enough to lines in the burning houses or under the sidewalk, authorities said.
"The incident has the look and feel of a natural gas explosion," said UGI Utilities spokesman Joseph Swope.
He said the 12-inch low pressure main involved in the incident had no leak history and the Pennsylvania-based natural gas and electric company had done a routine check for leaks on that street on Tuesday with no findings.
The freezing temperatures posed problems for firefighters, the fire chief said.
"Just getting our equipment in was a challenge," he said.
Along with leveling the two rowhouses, the explosion and blaze severely damaged six other rowhouses that are unlikely to be salvaged, authorities said.
Altogether, 47 properties including 10 businesses were damaged either by the blast, flames, water from fire hoses or forced entry by emergency workers, authorities said.
Nearly 200 people were evacuated from a nearby apartment complex but had been allowed to return home.
(Reporting by Lauren Keiper, Wendell Marsh and Daniel Lovering; Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Jerry Norton and Greg McCune)
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