Residents of Allentown, Pennsylvania, thought a bomb went off in one neighborhood last night. Over 10 people were injured, and five more expected dead, following a gas explosion on 13th Street around 11 pm on Wednesday night. The Allentown Morning Call reported that the explosion could be heard for miles.
According to Allentown fire officials, the explosion and resultant fire destroyed at least eight homes and damaged 47 other properties. Over 350 people in the surrounding area were forced to evacuate form nearby homes and apartment complexes following the blast; officials estimate that about 70 people will be displaced long-term.
Local law enforcement and the utility company did not receive any reports of gas odors prior to the explosion, according to Allentown's fire chief. A spokesman for UGI Utilities, the gas company servicing the area, said that it hasn't been confirmed to be a gas explosion, but noted that "the incident has the look and feel of a natural gas explosion."
It took over 4 hours for the gas supplied to the area to be shut off, as crews had to cut through reinforced concrete under the pavement in order to seal the gas main. Firefighters remained on the scene for hours, their efforts complicated by the ice and snow.
According to UGI, the street's pressure main had no history of leaks and a routine check by the company had taken place on that very street earlier this week with no findings.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is handling the investigation. One agency spokesperson told Fox News in Philadelphia that several inspectors are already working to determine the cause of the blast and to check for state or federal code violations, but the process could take a long time. Reuters reported that UGI expects to fully cooperate with fire, police and other government officials as they continue to investigate the cause of the gas explosion.
The Allentown explosion is the third deadly natural gas explosion in the U.S. in the last few months -- a natural gas explosion resulted in burn injuries for five individuals and killed another in Northeast Philadelphia last month, and the San Bruno gas explosion caused eight deaths last September.