Allentown Natural Gas Explosion Probe Focused on Pipeline Crack

The gas pipeline suspected of causing the fatal <"">Allentown natural gas explosion will be unearthed today. Over the weekend, UGI Utilities Inc. said a crack in a section of the 12-inch cast-iron gas main could have caused last week’s blast in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which killed five people and destroyed or damaged dozens of properties.

“Crews exposed the damaged section of the pipe and conducted a visual inspection which revealed a break that we believe to be the likely source of the gas involved in this incident,” UGI CEO John Walsh said in a statement issued yesterday afternoon.

As we’ve reported previously, the pipe involved in the Allentown natural gas explosion was installed in 1928, making it 83-years-old. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has warned in the past that such cast-iron pipes are subject to decay and in some cases in need of replacement. The federal Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 envisions replacement of such pipelines with safer materials, such as steel.

According to the Allentown Morning Call, the pipe is located in the intersection of W. Allen and N. 13th streets under about 8 inches of reinforced concrete near a duplex that was instantly destroyed by last Wednesday’s explosion. Crews used underground cameras to inspect the section of pipe, and said over the weekend an “imperfection” had been spotted. They began digging Saturday, exposed the damaged section yesterday afternoon, and will bring the pipe to the surface today. The pipe will be shipped by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to Affiliated Engineering Laboratory in Edison, N.J. for analysis.

The Allentown natural gas explosion occurred around 10:45 p.m. when a suspected natural gas leak in the 500 Block of North 13th Street ignited, sparking a fire that burned into the morning. According to a Bloomberg report, the pipeline involved in the blast lacked shut-off valves. As a result, the gas feeding the massive fire was not shut off until 3:45 a.m. the next morning, and the fire was brought under control by 4:30 a.m.

According to the Morning Call, the Allentown natural gas explosion killed a couple in their 70s, William and Beatrice Hall, and three generations of one family — Ofelia Ben, 69; Catherine Cruz, 16; and 4-month-old Matthew Cruz.

Eight homes were destroyed, and 47 other properties were damaged.

According to the Morning Call, UGI has given owners of the destroyed homes $20,000, while owners of the damaged properties received gift cards. The utility company has not placed limitations or restrictions on future legal actions in exchange for the cash or gift cards.

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