U.S. News

Pennsylvania blast kills at least three people

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - A fiery blast suspected of being caused by natural gas killed at least three people, including an infant, and destroyed several houses in Allentown, Pennsylvania, authorities said on Thursday.

Three other people were missing after the blast, which occurred about 11 p.m. ET on Wednesday, fire chief Robert Scheirer said at a news conference.

Those killed ranged in age from 4 months to 79 years old, authorities said. Their identities were not immediately released.

Among those unaccounted for was a 95-year-old man who lived across the street from where the blast occurred, authorities said.

Eight people were treated for minor injuries.

“Preliminary indications look like it was a gas explosion that resulted in an explosion and a fire,” said Allentown Police Captain George Medero.

Gas lines were shut off by about 3:45 a.m. on Thursday, authorities said.

The explosion and blaze leveled two rowhouses and severely damaged six others that were likely unsalvageable, authorities said.

Altogether, 47 properties including 10 businesses were damaged either by the blast, flames, water from fire hoses or forced entry by emergency workers, authorities said.

Hundreds of people were evacuated from a nearby apartment complex, authorities said. They were allowed to return home by mid-morning.

“The incident has the look and feel of a natural gas explosion,” said UGI Utilities spokesman Joseph Swope.

He said the 12-inch low pressure main involved in the incident had no leak history and the Pennsylvania-based natural gas and electric company had done a routine check for leaks on that street on Tuesday with no findings.

An investigation by UGI, fire, police and government officials would be launched to determine the cause of the explosion, Swope said.

The freezing temperatures posed problems for firefighters, the fire chief said.

“Just getting our equipment in was a challenge,” he said.

Several blocks around the blast site were closed off, residents said.

“Everything is blocked off, and it’s really, really bad out there,” said Tanya Celia, a manager and bartender at Rookie’s Restaurant & Sport’s Bar, a few blocks from the site of the explosion.

Celia said trees and power lines were covered with ice after fire fighters sprayed the area with water.

Reporting by Lauren Keiper, Wendell Marsh and Daniel Lovering; Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Jerry Norton