Woman Was on the Phone When Her Home Exploded

Baby, teen, woman & elderly couple die in blast

A baby boy and teenage girl were among the five people killed when an elderly couple's home exploded Wednesday night in Allentown.

The bodies of four victims were recovered the next morning:

  • Matthew Vega, 4 months old 
  • Katherine Cruz, 16
  • Ofelia Ben, 69
  • William Hall, 79

The body of William's wife Beatrice, 73, was recovered from the rubble of the Halls' home on the West side of N 13th Street later in the day.

The Hall family attorney confirmed Beatrice's death. She sold Avon products and was on the phone with a friend when the home she shared with her husband exploded Monday night around 10:50 p.m., Hall family attorney Mark Altemose said.

The Halls had lived on the block for more than 50 years, Altemose said.

Autopsies results were released Friday.

Vega, Ben and Cruz were all in the house next to the Halls at 542 N 13th St. Vega, the youngest victim, died from carbon monoxide inhalation and Cruz died from asphyxiation due to the blast, the Lehigh County's Coroner's Office said.

No exact cause of death was given for Ben.

Both the bodies found in the Halls home (544 N 13th St.) died from multiple blunt force trauma injuries, the coroner said.

The explosion shook one neighbor's house so violently he thought the country was under attack.

"As loud and as hard as that impact was, I was just looking up in the sky to see if I saw anything and she [my wife] thought a car ran into the house," said Antonio Arroyo, who lost everything in the blast.

The fiery explosion leveled the Hall's home and the one right next door. Six others were heavily damaged.

"It was like an inferno -- I couldn't believe it," said witness Elizabeth Polscer.

In all, 47 properties were "impacted" by the combination of a long-fought fire in freezing conditions and the intensity of the blast.

"It was a very difficult fire to fight because of the weather. Because of the snow piles, the ice, as soon as we throw water, everything turned to ice," said Fire Chief Robert Scheirer. "We're investigating whether any of the residents had work being done," said Chief Scheirer. He said as far as he knew, no one had reported smelling any gas odors before the explosion.

About 350 residents who were evacuated from Gross Towers, a nearby elder care and nursing home were allowed back in early Thursday morning.

Arroyo and his wife Jill are among the eight neighbors who won't be going home anytime soon.

"We just held each other and we just figure we're going to start from the beginning again," said Arroyo.

Mayor Ed Pawlowski made this promise to the people of Allentown, applauding their resilience:

"We've seen people come together. . .And we're going to work hard to get to the bottom of these events. We're going to move forward as a community. The affected neighborhoods will be rebuilt and the residents will be given every resource the city has and can use following this particular tragedy."

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