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5 dead in Pa. gas explosion

  |   Feb. 10, 2011 at 11:30 PM
 
ALLENTOWN, Pa., Feb. 10 (UPI) -- A gas explosion that gutted at least eight houses killed five people, Allentown, Pa., officials said Thursday.

Fire Marshal Matthew Bainbridge said late Thursday everyone living in the neighborhood has been located, The Morning Call of Allentown reported. He said cadaver dogs had searched the area and found the bodies of everyone reported missing..

Relatives identified the dead as William and Beatrice Hall, who were 79 and 74; and Ofelia Ben, her granddaughter, Celia Cruz, 16, and great-grandson, Matthew Manuel Cruz, 4 months.

About a dozen people were injured and more than 350 were evacuated from nearby blocks and a seniors apartment complex after a gas leak ignited late Wednesday.

"This has been a very difficult, rough 12-hour period for the victims of this tragedy and their families," Mayor Ed Pawlowski said during news conference Thursday. "Their lives have been turned upside down. Our thoughts and our prayers go out to these families, especially those who lost loved ones."

Eight homes were destroyed and 47 properties sustained some damage, Fire Chief Robert Scheirer said. About 70 people likely would be displaced long term, he said.

"We don't own much, and what was in that house was all we had," one man told KYW-TV in Philadelphia.

The fire chief said no gas odor preceded the explosion, the Call said.

"I think we are going under the assumption that it is a gas explosion, but it has not been confirmed to be the case," UGI Corp. spokesman Joseph Swope said.

The utility spokesman said the 12-inch low pressure main involved didn't have a history of leaks, the newspaper said. Swope also said UGI conducted a routine check for leaks on street where the explosion occurred with no negative findings.

Jason Soke told the Call he heard the explosion then raced to the scene where he was "stunned."

"There were bricks everywhere," Soke said. "It (the explosion) blew pieces of the house across the street. I thought, 'Holy cow!'"

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