1 Dead, 5 Injured in Gas Explosion in Northeast Philly

Posted on Wed, Jan. 19, 2011 By Robert Moran and Jan Ransom STAFF WRITERS A gas explosion in Northeast Philadelphia Tuesday night killed one gas company worker and sent five people to the hospital, three of whom were in critical condition, authorities said. Executive Fire Chief Daniel A. Williams said late Tuesday night that the body of a dead Philadelphia Gas Works employee was found at the scene of the explosion in 6900 block of Torresdale Avenue in the Tacony neighborhood. PGW spokesman Cameron Kline said just before 11 p.m. that three of the PGW workers were in critical condition at Aria-Torresdale Hospital. Another PGW worker was in stable condition, as was an injured firefighter. The explosion occurred at about 8:30 p.m. Kline said that a 12-inch gas main had exploded. Alerted to the smell of gas, firefighters and gas workers had cleared residents from homes in the area before the blast and were trying to address the leak to the gas line. A water main had also broken. Once the explosion occurred, Williams said, at least two homes and a PGW truck were set on fire. Firefighters eventually extinguished the fires. Jim Campoli, 61, was listening to oldies on the radio in his second story apartment above East Coast Dental Lab at 6936 Torresdale Avenue in Tacony when a police officer banged on his door around 7:30 p.m. and ordered him to evacuate. About an hour later, he and several people were standing at the corner of Marsden and Disston watching the utility and fire crews working in the street when the explosion occurred. “Oh man! It just blew up the whole street,” he said. The fireball rose 50 feet in the air, he said. The force of the explosion knocked down a man standing with Campoli. It shook houses throughout the neighborhood. Jerry Emberger, 52, a resident who evacuated his home in the 6900 block of Marsden, said he spoke with a gas worker after the explosion. “He bent down for a tool. The next thing he knew, he was across the street,” Emberger said. A half-hour after the main explosion, there were two smaller explosions that Emberger and others heard. Gas readings were high, so firefighters retreated to a safer distance. “Every time you see a fire truck move back, you go with them,” Emberger said. Emberger, who was several hundred yards from the explosion, said the flames shot high above any nearby buildings. Earlier in the evening, officials had evacuated about 40 people, including 24 from a senior care home, as firefighters and utility workers tried to shut off the leak. The gas leak, along with a water-main break, was reported sometime before 7:30 p.m., fire officials said. A hazmat situation was declared because the odor of gas could be detected for several blocks. PGW crews were attempting to shut off the gas supply in the area. The Water Department was also on the scene to deal with the water-main break. Campoli and other residents in the area, including those from the Disston Manor Personal Care Home, were sent to the Disston Recreation Center at Disston and Glenloch Streets. PGW’s director of corporate communications Doug Oliver said the utility tries to respond quickly to every call about a gas leak for the sake of caution. “Part of the routine for the gas company is you get that phone call, but you don’t know if one of those phone calls could be when something goes wrong,” Oliver said.

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