Updated at 7 a.m. Wednesday

A gas explosion in Northeast Philadelphia Tuesday night killed one gas company worker and sent six people to the hospital, three of whom were in critical condition, authorities said.

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Executive Fire Chief Daniel Williams said late Tuesday night that the body of a dead Philadelphia Gas Works employee was found at the scene of the explosion in 6900 block of Torresdale Avenue in the Tacony neighborhood.

PGW spokesman Cameron Kline said just before 11 p.m. that three of the PGW workers were in critical condition at Aria-Torresdale Hospital. Another PGW worker was in stable condition, as was an injured firefighter.

A second firefighter suffered minor injuries early Wednesday at the blast scene and was taken to a hospital to be examined.

The explosion occurred about 8:30 p.m. Kline said that a 12-inch gas main had exploded.

Alerted earlier to the smell of gas, firefighters and gas workers had cleared residents from homes in the area before the blast and were trying to address the leak to the gas line. A water main had also broken.

Once the explosion occurred, Williams said, at least two homes and a PGW truck were set on fire, though firefighters extinguished those blazes.

Jim Campoli, 61, was listening to oldies on the radio in his second-story apartment above East Coast Dental Lab at 6936 Torresdale Ave. in Tacony when a police officer banged on his door around 7:30 p.m. and ordered him to leave because of a report of a gas leak in the area.

About an hour later, he said, he and several people were standing at Marsden and Disston Streets watching the utility and fire crews working in the street when the explosion occurred.

"Oh man! It just blew up the whole street," he said. The fireball rose 50 feet in the air, he said. The force of the explosion knocked down a man standing with Campoli. It shook houses throughout the neighborhood.

Jerry Emberger, 52, a resident who evacuated his home in the 6900 block of Marsden, said he spoke with a gas worker after the explosion.

"He bent down for a tool. The next thing he knew, he was across the street," Emberger said.

A half-hour after the main explosion, Emberger and others heard two smaller explosions.

Gas readings were high, so firefighters retreated to a safer distance.

"Every time you see a fire truck move back, you go with them," Emberger said.

Emberger, who was several hundred yards from the explosion, said the flames shot high above any nearby buildings.

Earlier in the evening, officials had evacuated about 40 people, including 24 from a senior-care home, as firefighters and utility workers tried to shut off the leak.

The gas leak, along with the water-main break, was reported sometime before 7:30 p.m., fire officials said. A hazmat emergency was declared because the odor of gas could be detected for several blocks. PGW crews were attempting to shut off the gas supply in the area. The Water Department was also on the scene to deal with the water-main break.

Campoli and other residents in the area, including those from the Disston Manor Personal Care Home, were sent to the Disston Recreation Center at Disston and Glenloch Streets.

Contact staff writer Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com.