Five people are confirmed dead following Wednesday night’s horrific natural gas explosion in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Investigators are now trying to determine the cause behind the Allentown blast, which destroyed 8 homes and damaged 47 other properties.
Those killed in the Allentown natural gas explosion included a 4-month-old boy, a 16-year-old girl, a 69-year-old woman, a 79-year-old man and a 74-year-old woman.
About 350 people were evacuated from the area, including 165 seniors who were moved away from a senior apartment complex. They were later returned safely.
The Allentown natural gas explosion occurred around 10:45 p.m. when a suspected natural gas leak in the 500 Block of North 13th Street ignited, sparking a fire that burned into the morning. According to a Bloomberg report, the explosion involved a 12-inch underground gas line that lacked shut-off valves. As a result, the gas feeding the massive fire was not shut off until 3:45 a.m. the next morning, and the fire was brought under control by 4:30 a.m.
The pipeline involved in the explosion was a cast-iron pipe installed in 1928, making it 83-years-old. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has warned in the past that such cast-iron pipes are subject to decay and in some cases in need of replacement. The federal Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 envisions replacement of such pipelines with safer materials, such as steel.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) is investigating the incident. According to the Associated Press, a spokesperson for Reading-based UGI Utilities said a routine leak-detection test in that area the day prior to the blast had come up clean, and there had been no calls about gas odors before the disaster. Investigators planned to send cameras through the main to look for cracks and perform air-pressure tests on the service lines.
According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, there have been seven gas distribution accidents involving UGI since 1984 that resulted in hospitalization, death or significant property damage.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the Allentown natural gas explosion was the third major blast in the U.S. since fall. It has added to worries about aging pipelines that crisscross the nation. The NTSB is set to hold hearings next month on the recent blasts and consider improvements in pipeline safety, the Journal said.
In September, an explosion along a 30-inch natural gas pipeline in San Bruno, California destroyed 53 homes, damaged 120 more and left seven people dead. The pipe involved in that blast was 54 years old.
In January, a gas pipeline exploded in Philadelphia, killing an employee of Philadelphia Gas Works and injuring six others who were responding to a report of gas odors in a residential area.
Gas-distribution accidents caused 291 deaths and 1,193 injuries from 1990 to March 2010, the Journal said, though not all of those involved explosions. As we’ve reported previously, pipeline blasts in the past five years have killed 60 and injured 230.