Suspected Gas Blast Levels 2 Homes, Damages Others, Hurts 5

A suspected gas explosion a few hours into the new year demolished two Philadelphia row homes and damaged others, sending several people to the hospital, authorities said.

Fire department officials said the blast occurred shortly before 3 a.m. Sunday in the Port Richmond neighborhood of northeast Philadelphia. Two buildings were reduced to rubble while others had windows blown out, while several cars were pushed from the street and debris was scattered everywhere.

Assistant Fire Chief Charles Walker said two people managed to free themselves but one person had to be dug out of the rubble. A 65-year-old man was reported critically injured and a 60-year-old woman had critical burns, WTXF-TV reported. Police reported three other victims, at least two of them in stable condition.

“We were very fortunate from what we know now not to have a loss of life, because it’s the middle of the night and everyone is sleeping,” Walker told the station. “And if it’s confirmed to be a gas leak, it’s very rare to have the magnitude of this type of damage occur to not have loss of life, truly a blessing.”

Walker said there were multiple gas leaks “and the smell of gas coming from multiple areas.” Utility crews were called to the scene and the American Red Cross was on hand assisting residents, many of whom were taken to a nearby recreation center.

Long-time residents of the neighborhood told the Philadelphia Inquirer that a similar explosion occurred just blocks away in 1999. Kenneth B. Paul, president of the neighborhood’s civic association, said he hopes that the city and Philadelphia Gas Works can explain why the gas lines in the neighborhood have not bee replaced.

The utility said in a statement that it is cooperating with the Fire Marshal’s Office’s investigation of the incident, the Inquirer reported.