Allentown Pa, (CP) – A natural gas explosion rocked a downtown area during the night, leveling two houses and spawning fires that burned for hours in an entire row of houses nearby. One person was killed and at least five others were missing Thursday.
Allentown fire officials told a news conference at least one person was killed and five other people were missing in the wake of the blast that occurred about 11:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, local media reported.
The explosion and blaze damaged at least eight rowhouses, according to Allentown Police Captain George Medero.
"Preliminary indications look like it was a gas explosion that resulted in an explosion and a fire," Medero said.
Hundreds of people were evacuated from a nearby apartment complex, authorities said.
"The incident has the look and feel of a natural gas explosion," said UGI Utilities spokesman Joseph Swope.
Swope 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.
UGI arrived on the scene at 11:18 p.m. on Wednesday and shut off gas in the area by 3:45 a.m. on Thursday, said Swope.
Gas remains shut off in the one block area of the explosion and UGI expects to work in cooperation with fire, police and government officials during the investigation into the cause of the explosion, he said.
Allentown authorities planned an 11:30 a.m. briefing to provide further details.
A spokesman from the Lehigh County Coroner's office said it "was still working the scene" and could not offer any information as of 9:30 a.m. ET.
"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 was unsure if the restaurant would be opening on Thursday and said nearby trees and power lines were covered with ice after fire fighters sprayed the area with water.