Explosion in Pa. city causes fires, evacuations

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) — A natural gas explosion Wednesday in the eastern Pennsylvania city of Allentown leveled two houses, spawned fires, and prompted the evacuation of two city blocks.

Police Chief Roger MacClean said at least two people were unaccounted for after their two-story row house in a downtown residential neighborhood blew up about 10:45 p.m.

In all about 500 to 600 people were evacuated, including elderly residents of a high rise. Residents were taken to a local Jewish community center and an agricultural hall at the city’s fairgrounds while emergency crews worked overnight to contain the mayhem.

Fire Chief Robert Scheirer said the fire consumed an entire row of homes. While firefighters continued to battle the blaze into Thursday, the chief predicted eight houses will be lost and another 16 damaged. The cause of the explosion was not known.

To complicate things, Scheirer said, utility workers were having trouble digging through thick layers of snow and ice to a ruptured underground gas line that was feeding the flames.

UGI utility crews were shutting down the gas mains in the area.

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