Allentown, Pa. natural gas explosion kills 5 people, says coroner
Thursday, February 10, 2011; 5:09 PM
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- A natural gas explosion rocked a downtown neighborhood overnight, killing five people, leveling two houses and spawning fires that burned for hours through an entire row of neighboring homes.
Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim said Thursday that all but one body had been recovered from the debris. The victims ranged in age from 4 months to 79 years old, fire Chief Robert Scheirer said.
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.
A neighbor, Dorothy Yanett, called them "a beautiful couple" who were active in the Methodist church and a local food bank. "Just lovely people."
Scheirer said 47 buildings were damaged, and eight were expected to be total losses.
The cause of the explosion was unclear. The state Public Utility Commission is investigating and looking for any violations of state or federal law, said agency spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher.
"We don't know if it was the main, we don't know if it was the service line, if it was inside the house, outside the house," Kocher said. "It's all very preliminary at this point."
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.
Yanett, 65, has lived on the block for nearly 40 years. She was in her living room with her husband awaiting the evening news when she heard a series of booms, she said.
"I couldn't tell where it was coming from," she said. "Everything falling and crashing, glass, just a nightmare."
She found glass in the shoes she was going to put to leave the house.
"There was no odor, there was no smell. Then it was like all hell broke loose."