Rescue personnel and the Lehigh County coroner identified five victims from the explosion and fire that destroyed eight properties and damaged 47 properties Wednesday at about 10:40 p.m.
Among the dead were William and Beatrice Hall, who were inside their home at 544 N. 13th St. at the time of the explosion. Their home was obliterated. William, 79, and his wife, Beatrice, 74, were married for more than 50 years. Beatrice was well-known in the area as " the Avon lady."
Lehigh County Coronor Scott Grim ruled that the Halls died from blunt force trauma as a result of the explosion.
Next door, at 542 N. 13th, three members of the Cruz family died — Ofelia Ben, 69; Katherine Cruz, 16; and 4-month-old Matthew Vega.
Matthew died of carbon monoxide poisoning, according to Grim. Catherine died of "positional asphyxiation," or being crushed. Grim also said the cause of death for Ofelia could not be exactly determined.
At a press conference Friday, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski and Fire Chief Robert Scheirer said it will probably be a long invesigation until the final cause of the blast is determined.
At that conference, UGI spokespersons said that crews had recently done testing of the gas lines in that area and no faults were found. But they also said the blast was characteristic of a natural gas explosion.
Bill and Dotty Yanett, who lived at 532 N. 13th St. and owned their daughter Donna's home next door at 534 N. 13th St., said they are just grateful to be alive.
"The house can be rebuilt," Bill Yanett said with tears in his eyes, "but we can't."
The couple lost everything, including a trunk full of memorabilia that they've collected since their marriage in 1964. Except for the clothes on their backs they wore as the fled the fire, the Yanetts are now depending on the kindness of their friends and family.
The Yanetts said they do not think they will return to live in Allentown.
How to Help
Mayor Pawlowski said he has been getting lots of offers to help, but what was really needed was cash to help these families. Various venues are holding impromptu fundraisers. But here are other ways to help:
American Red Cross
If you would like to make a donation to the American Red Cross for disaster relief efforts, you can do so by donating online at www.redcrosslv.org; or calling 610-865-4400 to make a credit card donation.
You can also send a check payable to the American Red Cross of the Greater Lehigh Valley, 2200 Avenue A, Bethlehem, PA 18017
Cordelia Miller, director of emergency services, said the American Red Cross gives debit cards with monetary value to those displaced so that they can make their own choices.
“It’s a psychological boost for these families,” Miller said. “It gives the clients some sort of control over their own lives.”
In a prepared release, Janice Osborne, director of communications and marketing, said the American Red Cross does not collect money to give to the families individually. Donations made to the American Red Cross are used to help with local on-going disaster relief efforts and other events.
Also, according to the release, the Red Cross does not collect clothing, personal care products or other small items. It suggests those items be donated to the local Salvation Army. It also suggested that any food collected be donated to Second Harvest.
St. Luke’s Neighborhood Center
St. Luke’s Lutheran Church and St. Luke’s Neighborhood Center are partnering to offer clothing to those displaced by the natural gas explosion, said parish administrator Leslie Talago.
St. Luke’s operates a clothing closet every Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the center at 417 N. Seventh St., Allentown.
Talago said the center is accepting additional donations at the outside vestibule of men’s and women’s clothing, shoes, and new, packaged undergarments to help those displaced. Baby clothes and baby items are not needed, she said.
Aerial photographs provided by Steve Williams of Flight Quest Aerial Photography.