Case Study – 2011 Allentown Natural Gas Pipeline Explosion

This case study  is a natural gas pipeline explosion in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  The following excerpts from the February 10, 2011 The Morning Call (Lehigh Valley News) and The New York Times provide excellent summaries of the incident:

Fifth Body Found in Rubble of Allentown Blast: Explosion destroys at least two center city homes, sets six on fire, more than 600 people evacuated, Christopher Baxter, Frank Warner and Andrew McGill, The Morning Call

“ALLENTOWN, Pa.— Five people — including a 4-month-old boy — died in Allentown’s massive gas explosion and fire, authorities confirmed at a Thursday afternoon news conference.

About a dozen people were injured and more than 350 were forced to evacuate from surrounding blocks and the Gross Towers seniors apartment complex when an apparent gas leak ignited at 544 N. 13th St.

The mayor said two properties were leveled by the blast and six more have to be razed, and a total of 47 properties, including 10 businesses, were damaged.

The mayor said what the victims’ need most “is dollars,” and urged those who want to help to call the American Red Cross of the Greater Lehigh Valley.

About 70 people were likely to be displaced long-term. All residents of Gross Towers have returned to their homes.

At least five Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority buses took senior residents from the eight-story west and 12-story east buildings of the Gross Towers, according to police reports. Buses were stacked up in the 600 block of 14th Street.

About 200 people were evacuated to the Agri-Plex at the Allentown Fairgrounds, but there were only tables and chairs – no beds. Five busloads of dazed and bleary-eyed evacuees began arriving about 12:30 a.m. The American Red Cross of the Greater Lehigh Valley also responded.

Displaced people at the Agri-Plex were given hot beverages and snacks, said Janice Osborne, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross. Vicky Kistler, director of the Allentown Health Bureau, was there along with nurses to tend to any needs of the Gross Towers residents, Osborne said.

Two Allentown schools were closed Thursday. Luis A. Ramos Elementary School at 1430 W. Allen Street and the IBEAM Academy, the former Jackson Elementary School, at 517 N. 15th St. were closed.”

Blast Kills 5 in Pennsylvania, Katharine Q. Seelye, The New York Times

“Utility officials said the gas line was a 12-inch low-pressure main, made of cast iron and installed in the 1920s.

Nationwide, it was the latest of several gas-related explosions in recent months. Last month, a 12-inch gas main exploded in a residential neighborhood in Philadelphia, killing a gas company employee and injuring six other people. The cause of that blast remains under investigation. In December, two people died when a gas main explosion destroyed a furniture store in Wayne, Mich.

In September, a natural gas pipe burst in San Bruno, Calif., killing eight people and destroying nearly 40 houses. The National Transportation Safety Board said that pipe had numerous flaws in its welds.

Two gas line explosions a day apart in June killed three people in Texas.”

Interviews were conducted with John Hughes, Regional CEO of the American Red Cross of the Greater Lehigh Valley and and Northeastern Pennsylvania and Alan Jennings, Executive Director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley.


One thought on “Case Study – 2011 Allentown Natural Gas Pipeline Explosion

  1. This fatal explosion was indeed a tragic incident that rattled the community, but brought quick and compassionate response from many. The mayor said that the thing the victims needed the most was simply dollars. The article below lists how the community was able to raise money- but had a difficult time distributing and allocating it:,0,4791114.story
    Whenever a crisis emerges or disaster strikes, there is an inherent and intrinsic response by those not directly affected, to help and assist those who are. The dilemma seems to lie more frequently in the coordination and dispersing of those resources- not in the lack of resources, volunteers, or commitment. Take, for example, the fairly recent incident on the Blacksburg campus of Virginia tech, where Officer Dariek Crouse was gunned down. This crisis opened up recently healed wounds from the massacre on the 16th of April, 4 years earlier. Deriek W. Crouse was shot in his vehicle in an apparent senseless and motiveless act. However, the community responded quickly and generously to the family, raising tens of thousands of dollars within days. In this event, although an entire community was affected, the victims and those needing the assistance were quickly and easily identified. The family was the direct beneficiary of community donations and assistance. The university joined with the local community in showing respect and condolences for the killed family. Again, in small communities with tight, shared bonds, resiliency is more abundant.
    In a community where there are multiple victims of varying degrees- coupled with a wide array of physical and structural damage, the allocation isn’t as straightforward. The larger the community and the more politically involved its members become, the more difficult it becomes to properly allocate those much-needed resources. Political parties, favors, and strategic positioning occasionally undermine the response and slow the process. On a larger scale and in a foreign country- this trend is quite visible. Take the recent incident where a US Congressman was denied entry into Afghanistan for being too vocal about the corruption and illegitimate/unethical practices from those in the government. In addition, look at the following blog regarding the amount, complexity, and seemingly universal nature of the corruption:
    The more complex a community and the more competing interests that exist, the more difficult the task is of tackling problems and ameliorating challenges. Small communities are resilient in the fact that they are more unified and more connected than larger counterparts.

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