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Investigators Target Source of Allentown Blast But City Still on Edge

Fire Chief fears effects of freeze, thaw on aging infrastructure.

Crews have identified the section of aging cast iron gas pipe that may have caused last Wednesday’s , but Allentown’s fire chief still isn’t sleeping easy.

“This time of year, I’m concerned all the time as the ground constantly freezes and thaws,” Chief Robert Scheirer said Monday. “A water main break could lead to a gas main break. I’m always worried about it.”

Scheirer said UGI crews responded “very quickly” to reports of two small gas leaks in the 600 block of North 11th Street on Sunday evening. Some residents were evacuated for about 10 minutes, he said.

Scheirer gave reporters an update on the investigation after Governor Tom Corbett toured the disaster scene at 13th and Allen Streets Monday afternoon.

The gas pipe will be dug up and sent to a lab for testing, which will take several weeks. Scheirer said it took days to find the problem spot because of ground conditions, which included digging through snow, ice, macadam and six inches of concrete.

“Trying to pinpoint something in a one-block radius is pretty hard,” he said.

As officials held a press conference, a demolition worker carefully pulled a tattered photo album from the rubble and put it aside for safe keeping. Among the rubble, a red toy truck sat in a puddle in front of the site of a home where a four-month-old boy died along with his mother and grandmother. also perished when their house was leveled by the explosion.

The American Red Cross is continuing to assist survivors with housing and counseling. The agency does not earmark donations to be used toward particular disasters, but a spokeswoman said Monday more than $8,000 from local donors has come in as of Friday. To donate, call 610-865-4400.

The Morning Call reports that UGI has given $20,000 each to the owners of the properties destroyed on the even side of the block.

Corbett said the disaster "does demonstrate that we have an aging infrastructure--particularly in the eastern half of the country and in Pennsylvania."

Corbett spoke with two couples who lost their homes and possessions.

"I can't imagine losing all your memories," he said. "It is certainly a sad day for the loss of life and for those who have been made homeless."

Corbett said the state stands ready to assist Allentown and Lehigh County although it's not immediately clear that Harrisburg has a role in the recovery effort.

Apples L February 15, 2011 at 05:10 PM
We live in Salisbury and the blast woke us out of bed, the house shook, I thought my daughter fell out of bed! Prayers to the families of the deceased!

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