It was always a quiet block, everyone would say afterward. Maybe it was. Or maybe the 500 block of N. 13th Street in Allentown only seemed so in retrospect.
The night was cold and characteristically still as a man made his way along Allen Street. He was carrying a shopping bag, Sheila Guzman noticed, and wearing just a light jacket. The poor thing must be freezing, the 17-year-old thought, watching from her window on the other side of the street.
And then it blew up.
The home of William and Beatrice Hall, 542 N. 13th St., exploded with a force that ripped off nearby doors, wrenched open drawers and sent a plume of debris across the city. In the hours to come, voices would quaver when asked to describe what happened.
The Morning Call interviewed dozens of people in the hours and days following the Feb. 9 explosion. This is a detailed account of what happened that night, built from the observations of those who experienced it firsthand.
10:48 p.m.: The phone went dead.
At the time, it seemed like no big deal Just a dropped call, Steven Vega thought. And it's not as though he and his girlfriend had been discussing anything special -- just plans to meet the next day before heading out for class at Allen High School.
So from his mother's house on S. Fifth Street, Vega dialed Katherine Cruz's cell number again.
His call went straight to voice-mail. Frowning, Steven tried the number at the house where Katherine, 16, lived with their 4-month old son, Matthew Vega, and her grandmother. Even weirder -- no answer at all.
He tried not to panic, but there was a sick feeling in his stomach. It would be nearly 12 hours before Steven would learn what had happened.
In her bedroom on N. 13th Street, Karen Grabowski felt like she was drowning. Covered in bricks and shingles, pinned to her bed by the ceiling fan, she wondered at first if she was still dreaming. But as she gasped for breath, she knew she was all too painfully awake.
"Ed!" she yelled. "Get this off! The whole roof is gone!"
Her husband dug her out, chucking bricks and insulation right and left, and together they ran downstairs.
10:50 p.m.: An Allentown police officer was on the scene. In fact, he was in the Grabowskis' living room, making sure they left the house.
There was pandemonium on the street. Karen Grabowski could hear the sirens. And she could feel the heat.
"Your neighbor's house is on fire," someone shouted.
It was worse than that. Their neighbor's house was gone.
10:55 p.m.: The first firetruck arrived on the scene. Calls bombarded the city's communication center. And the fire was elevated to a second alarm.
FACE OF DISASTER
A chronological story of the Allentown explosion, from those who were there.
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