PHILADELPHIA (AP) – A gas main explosion in a Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood Tuesday that sent a 50-foot fireball into the sky, left one person dead, injured five others and forced dozens of residents from their homes.

Fire dispatchers received a report of a gas and water main break in the Tacony neighborhood at 7:19 p.m. A little over an hour later the blast occurred, they said. It was 11 p.m. before the fire was brought under control.

Dispatchers said the body of a Philadelphia Gas Works employee, previously reported unaccounted for, would be taken to the Medical Examiner’s Office.

Jim Campoli, 61, told The Philadelphia Inquirer he was at home, listening to the radio, when a police officer banged on his door and told him to evacuate. He said he and several people were standing on the corner watching utility and fire crews working when the fireball burst into the sky.

The force of the explosion shook neighborhood houses, and knocked down a man standing with Campoli, he said.

“Oh, man! It just blew up the whole street,” Campoli said.

The cause of the blast was not known Tuesday.

PGW spokesman Cameron Kline told The Inquirer that three PGW workers were in critical condition at Aria-Torresdale Hospital and a fourth was listed as stable, as was an injured firefighter. But a hospital spokeswoman said four people were in critical condition with burns and injuries to their air passages. One was transferred to a burn center, she said.

“Every possible department and agency … is here,” Mayor Michael Nutter told reporters at the scene. “Everyone’s working in concert together.”

The Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter of the American Red Cross opened a comfort center to help residents of the 15 to 20 dwellings affected by the blast. The Red Cross helped about 75 people who visited the center during the evening.

“All were allowed back home or have found a place to stay,” chapter spokesman Dave Schrader said later in a news release.

The newspaper said those evacuated included about 24 people from a senior care home.

Jim Smith, a supervisor in the Philadelphia Fire Department’s communications center, said a company was dispatched after the center received a report of an odor of gas in the neighborhood. He said the leak turned out to be “fairly serious” and an additional crew was sent to investigate. He said that’s when the blast occurred from some unknown ignition source.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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