Massive Pa. Gas Blast Leaves One Dead, Five Missing

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"The explosion was so powerful it was felt nine miles away in Bethlehem, Pa."

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One person was dead and five were missing after a massive natural gas explosion demolished and set fire to homes and sent flames hundreds of feet into the air in eastern Pennsylvania.

Allentown fire Chief Robert Scheirer said the victim lived in a two-story row house that exploded Wednesday night. An elderly couple in their 70s lived in the home, but Scheirer says the condition of the body prevented positive identification.

Five other people were still unaccounted for after the blast that leveled two houses. The cause of the explosion is unclear.

The fire that burned for hours has been put out, and 500 to 600 residents who were evacuated are returning to their homes.

Allentown fire Chief Robert Scheirer said early Thursday that the fire consumed an entire row of homes. He predicted eight will be lost and another 16 damaged.

Images from NBC station WCAU showed flames reaching hundreds of the feet into the air from the scene of the blast. The explosion was so powerful it was felt nine miles away in Bethlehem, Pa.

The blaze was put out early Thursday, delayed by the difficulty of digging through packed layers of snow and ice to a ruptured underground gas line that was feeding the flames, Scheirer said.

Residents were allowed to return home early Thursday. They had been taken to a Jewish community center and an agricultural hall at the city's fairgrounds while emergency crews worked overnight.

The blast also downed dozens of high-power electrical lines, according to radio reports monitored by the Morning Call and msnbc.com. PPL Electric Utilities shut down power in the area.

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