A massive natural gas explosion leveled eight homes and sparked a massive fire in Allentown, Pennsylvania. At least three people – including an infant – are confirmed dead, and two others are still missing.
The natural gas explosion occurred in the 500 Block of North 13th Street in Allentown. A suspected natural gas leak ignited around 10:45 p.m. last night, sparking a fire that burned into the morning. Fire crews had to dig through snow and ice to stop an underground pipeline from feeding the flames. UGI crews were not able to shut off the gas until 3:45 a.m., according to an ABC News report, and the fire was brought under control by 4:30 a.m.
At a news conference this morning, it was confirmed that the three fatalities ranged in age from 4-months-old to 79 years. Officials would not identify the dead and missing.
Another 16 homes were damaged in the explosion. The blast also blew out windows in many homes and businesses surrounding the area. The explosion and fire were so strong that hundreds of people were forced to evacuate their homes, but they are now being allowed to return.
According to the Allentown Morning Call, people in the neighborhood said they felt as if they were under attack. Residents from as far as Bethlehem, PA reported feeling the ground shake.
“I thought it was bringing the war to our doorsteps”, Antonio Arroyo, one of those who lost, told the Morning Call.
“Down the street, it was all red flames”, said Ernesto Santiago. You could hear people screaming. It was awful.
“This has been a very difficult, rough 12-hour period for the victims of this tragedy and their families”, Mayor Ed Pawlowski said at a Thursday morning news conference. “Their lives have been turned upside down. Our thoughts and our prayers go out to these families, especially those who lost loved ones”.
The cause of the explosion is being investigated. A UGI spokesperson told the Allentown Morning Call that 12-inch low pressure main involved in the incident hadn’t had any history of leaks and a routine check for leaks on that street on Tuesday turned up nothing.
The explosion is under state authority, so the investigation is being handled by the state Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, the Morning Call said.
This is the second major natural gas explosion the U.S. has experienced since September, when an explosion along a 30-inch natural gas pipeline in San Bruno, California destroyed 53 homes, damaged 120 more and left seven people dead.
Pipeline blasts in the past five years have killed 60 and injured 230.