Allentown, PA High Rise Explosion, Jun 1994


Allentown, Pa. (AP) - The sound of rumbling earth, shattering windows, crumbling walls was deafening.
MARY MARTIN, too old at 84 to venture outside often, found herself thrown face down, shards of glass embedded in her forehead, when the first of two explosions rocked the eight-story apartment building where she lived, killing one man and injuring 87 others Thursday evening.
"When that glass started coming down, oh, the noise it made," she said at a Red Cross shelter. "We'll say our prayers every night."
The first explosion occurred at 6:45 p.m. as 73-year-old WILLIAM KRAY opened the door to his apartment at John Gross Towers, a public housing complex for seniors, authorities said.
The second explosion occurred about 10 minutes later, Mayor William Heydt said.
Six hospitals reported at least 87 people sought treatment, and at least 17 were admitted.
The explosion blew KRAY about 15 feet into his living room, Lehigh County Coroner Wayne Snyder said. KRAY'S wife, BERTA, was admitted to a hospital for smoke inhalation.
"No other deaths. It's amazing that that's all we have had," Snyder said.
The sound of the explosion brought people running to the damaged building and the adjoining tower, which authorities also evacuated. About 400 people lived in the 179 apartments.
"I was at a baseball game with my kids when I heard the explosion," said Chuck Krasnov, a former emergency medical technician. "It's amazing how many local people came pouring out of their houses and dove in to help."
"Everyone came through," he said.
"There were a few hundred heroes."
The explosion shattered windows at nearby stores and shook businesses more than a block away.
"The force of the explosion had knocked bathroom sinks off walls," said Jim Yeager, whose heating oil business is a block and a half away.
"Nothing in the rooms was in their normal place."
The mayor said contractors installing a fuel oil tank apparently ruptured a 2-inch gas main on Wednesday. The gas company received a report of a gas odor just 10 minutes before the explosion, said Robert Stoyko, a spokesman for UGI Utilities, Inc.
Dazed residents poured out of the building. Paramedics set up temporary emergency units on the grass, separating the seriously injured from those suffering cuts and bruises.
"The whole front lawn was full of people on stretchers and gurneys," said John Klaske, a manager at the nearby McCarty Tire Service.
Residents of both towers were evacuated even though the second building was not damaged, police dispatcher Michael Hilbert said.
"There was a lot of confusion and there was a lot of crying," said Ray Callahan, the tire store's other manager. He said chairs were set up outside; "People that were hyperventilating, they set them down in the chairs to calm them down."
Yeager, a Republican congressional candidate, said he helped several residents to safety.
"A lot of them had trouble walking,"
he said. "They had walkers and canes."
Nearby hotels volunteered to take in the displaced residents. Many of the elderly were taken to Allentown Fairgrounds, where an emergency shelter had been set up, but most left with residents before midnight.
The damaged tower had 129 apartments,
Heydt said. Officials hoped to allow the residents of the 150 apartments in the other tower to return today.

Tyrone Daily Herald Pennsylvania