Thursday, February 10, 2011

Natural gas explosion in Pennsylvania kills at least three

Where is Allentown?
Allentown is a city located in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, in the United States. It is Pennsylvania's third most populous city, after Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and the 239th largest city in the United States. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 106,632, (2008 estimate 111,025). It is also the county seat of Lehigh County.

Located on the Lehigh River, Allentown is the largest of three adjacent cities that make up a region of eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey known as the Lehigh Valley, with the cities of Bethlehem and Easton nearby. Allentown is 60 miles north of Philadelphia, the sixth most populous city in the United States, 80 miles east of Harrisburg, the state capital, and 90 miles west of New York City, the nation's largest city.

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

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.

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.

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 gas line feeding the flames, Scheirer said. About 500 to 600 people who were evacuated were allowed to return home.

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

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.

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

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