Pa. Explosion Forces Evacuation of Hundreds

500 to 600 people were evacuated, including elderly residents of a high rise.

 

 
 
 

| Thursday, February 10, 2011


ALLENTOWN, Pa. - A natural gas explosion rocked a downtown neighborhood overnight, leveling two houses and spawning fires that burned for hours through an entire row of neighboring homes. Three people were killed, including an infant, and at least two others were unaccounted for Thursday.

A couple in their 70s lived in a two-story row house that blew up about 10:45 p.m. Wednesday, police Chief Roger MacClean said. Michelle Hall told The Morning Call newspaper that her in-laws, Beatrice Hall, 74, and William, 79, lived in the home.

The victims ranged in age from 4 months to 79 years old, fire Chief Robert Scheirer said, but city officials have not released the names of those killed or missing.

The cause of the explosion was unclear. The blaze was put out early Thursday, delayed by the difficulty of digging through packed layers of snow and ice to a ruptured underground gas line that was feeding the flames, Scheirer said. About 500 to 600 people who were evacuated were allowed to return home.

Six people had been reported missing earlier, but Scheirer says officials believe one of them was not home at the time of the blast.

Scheirer predicted eight houses would be lost and another 16 damaged.

A routine leak-detection check of the gas main that serves the area on the day before the explosion found no problems, a spokesman for a utility said.

There's no history of leaks for that section of 12-inch cast-iron main, and there were no calls about gas odors before the explosion, said Joe Swope of Reading-based UGI Utilities Inc.

The utility used foam to seal the gas main on both ends of a one-block area at about 3:45 a.m. Thursday. It took crews some time to cut through reinforced concrete underneath the pavement, Swope said.

The blast was so powerful that it sent a flat-screen computer monitor sailing into the back of Antonio Arroyo, whose house was on the opposite end of the row from the explosion.

"I thought we were under attack," he recalled from a shelter where some 250 people took refuge in the hours after the blast.

Arroyo and his wife, Jill, both 43, lost their home in the fire.

Antonio said he ran outside and saw that an entire house had been leveled, a fireball now raging in the spot where it once stood.

"What I saw, I couldn't believe," said Arroyo, a community volunteer.

He and his wife, a nurse, fled their home with only the clothes on their back. They planned to return at daylight to see what they could salvage. Jill Arroyo broke down sobbing when she recalled her son's athletic memorabilia _ likely lost in the blaze _ including DVDs of his high school football games.

"The DVDs are gone. All his trophies are gone. All gone," she sobbed as her husband comforted her.

Tricia Aleski, who lives a few blocks away, said the explosion jangled her nerves.

"I was reading a book in the living room and it felt like a giant kicked the house. It all shook. Everything shook," she said. "I checked the stove and everything, (to) make sure everything's off."

Jason Soke was watching college basketball when he heard and felt the explosion. It rattled his windows. He went to the third floor and looked out and saw flames and smoke.

"Your senses kind of get stunned," he said. "It puts you on edge."
 



Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: News, explosion, evacuation

 
What's Your Take? Comment Now ...

Featured Careers & Jobs in EMS





 

Get JEMS in Your Inbox

 

Fire EMS Blogs


Blogger Browser

Today's Featured Posts

 

EMS Airway Clinic

Innovation & Progress

Follow in the footsteps of these inspirational leaders of EMS.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

University of Pittsburgh STAAMP Trial

Trauma experts launch tranexamic acid trial.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

New York Ambulance Service Begins Using Power Cot

Service is first in county with new technology.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

Traffic Cam Captures Wisconsin Ambulance Crash

Driver of ambulance cited for failing to operate safely.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

New Mexico Hospital Mourns Helicopter Crash Victims

TriState CareFlight pilot and crew killed in crash.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

Moscow Subway MCI

At least 20 dead and 150 injured in subway derailment.
More >


Multimedia Thumb

Hands On July 2014

Check out the latest products and innovations in JEMS.
More >


Multimedia Thumb

Wounded Veteran Resiliency

Marine is one of many in quality of life study.
More >


Multimedia Thumb

Braun Ambulances' EZ Door Forward

Helps to create a safer ambulance module.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

VividTrac offered by Vivid Medical - EMS Today 2013

VividTrac, affordable high performance video intubation device.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

The AmbuBus®, Bus Stretcher Conversion Kit - EMS Today 2013

AmbuBus®, Bus Stretcher all-hazards preparedness & response tool
Watch It >


More Product Videos >