5 Dead In Pa. Natural Gas Explosion

March 2011, Vol. 238 No. 3

A natural gas explosion rocked a downtown neighborhood in Allentown, PA on Feb. 9, killing five residents, leveling several houses, and causing fires that burned for hours through an entire row of nearby homes.

A couple in their 70s lived in a two-story row house that blew up about 10:45 p.m. Three people in another family, including a 4-month-old baby, also lost their lives. The cause of the explosion was unclear. The state Public Utility Commission is investigating and looking for any violations of state or federal law.

Firefighters were hampered by the difficulty of digging through packed layers of snow and ice to a ruptured underground gas line that was feeding the flames. More than 500 people were evacuated.

Utility crews had worked to shut off the gas mains in the area. The type of main used in that area typically does not have valves that allow for simply shutting off the stream of gas, a spokesman for the utility said in an e-mail, according to the Associated Press.

A routine leak-detection check of the gas main that serves the area on the day before the explosion found no problems, said Joe Swope of Reading-based UGI Utilities Inc. The main dates to 1928 but there was 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 Swope.

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