At least 2 dead in massive Philadelphia house explosion; death toll could rise

US and World

PHILADELPHIA (WIAT & CBS) — A massive explosion rocked a South Philadelphia neighborhood just before noon Thursday engulfing as many as four rowhouses and trapping as many as three people inside.

At least two people are presumed dead according to Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel. He says firefighters were not able to remove the two people trapped — both are likely presumed dead.

Sixty people on the 1400 block of South 8th Street had to be evacuated as crews worked to extinguish the massive flames.

The blast blew out windows several blocks away and knocked over residents in their homes. More than 120 firefighters were called in to battle the flames.

The explosion and fire leveled three houses and significantly damaged two others. Heavy equipment was brought in to lift debris. Authorities say they are still concerned about a sinkhole forming under the street that may have been caused by the explosion.

Witnesses describe the explosion as sounding like a bomb that went off.

The fire reached three alarms.

Police say they received multiple calls to a house explosion and possible gas smell, shortly after 11:30 a.m. The fire was placed under control three hours later.

WATCH: MASSIVE PHILLY HOUSE EXPLOSION

Thiel says firefighters worked to rescue a woman who was trapped under debris. She was taken to a local hospital and her condition is not known.

It appears the fire started at a middle row home and then spread to adjacent homes.

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The explosion and fire rattled the entire neighborhood. Some people tried to jump in to try to help before firefighters arrived.

Officials have not yet said what caused the explosion and resulting fire.

Power and gas have been shut off to the block, affecting as many as 150 customers.

The American Red Cross opened a reception center at South Philly High School. People who live in the 1400 blocks of South 8th and South Franklin Streets were urged not to try to go home. Thiel says they will try to get residents back inside their homes as soon as possible.

The Red Paw Emergency Relief Team also went door-to-door to check on pets.

No firefighters were injured. Friday crews resumed their efforts as they begin to sift through the debris and the death toll could rise.

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