WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - "I smiled instantly," Antonio Arroyo III said. "My dad pulled the car around as fast as he could, got out and we hugged for what felt like forever."
On Thursday evening, Feb. 17, Arroyo saw his parents for the first time since a natural gas explosion ripped through his parents' neighborhood in Allentown, Pa., on Feb. 9. For nine agonizing days, Arroyo stayed at Lycoming College, where he is a freshman and a member of the football team, while his parents spent their time in Allentown, looking to regroup.
The Arroyos are quick to tell you how lucky they are. Their family was safe and intact, while five people died in the explosion that leveled half a city block, newspaper reports said.
On that Wednesday, Arroyo was asleep in his dorm room when his mother, Jill, called him at around 11:45 p.m.
"My mom asked me if I was listening because I was half-asleep," he said, "and then she told me. I popped out of my bed and that whole night, I didn't really sleep."
After all, everything was gone. Videotapes of Arroyo in high school at powerlifting competitions. The jars with Antonio's and older sisters', Miriam and Judy, baby teeth in them. Photographs, clothing, kitchenware, important family documents all destroyed.
A few things did survive, somehow, though, one of them being Antonio's high school football helmet.
"My father saw that when they were picking all the debris up from off the ground and he asked one of the guys to get it," Arroyo said. "He called me right after. We're happy to have that one thing; and I think it put him at ease."
From the ashes, though, the Arroyos have been touched by the outpouring of humanity. Donations have poured in and benefits organized in their hometown of Allentown. The couple spent a few nights at their daughter's home before a friend offered a two-room space in his house to stay. A friend from Nike mailed blue-and-yellow sneakers and clothing to the family.
At Lycoming, Antonio was immediately contacted by Dean of Students Dan Miller and had a meeting with him, giving him someone to talk to about it.
"The College was phenomenal," Antonio Arroyo Jr., said. "They kept my son with a steady mind and they watched over him very well while this tragedy happened in our family."
With things beginning to get more under control just days after the explosion, the couple planned a trip to Williamsport to take their son back to Allentown for the weekend.
"We loved the school when we visited," Arroyo Jr., said, "but you don't really know the goodness until you have a situation like this. It's a humbling feeling."
Now back in Allentown, Antonio III is not sure whether he will visit his former home, where he lived for most of his high school career.
"I was pretty emotional just seeing the stuff online," he said. "I can only imagine what it would be like seeing it in person. There's nothing there at all."
Donations for the Arroyo family may be sent to: Office of Student Affairs, Lycoming College, Box 158, Williamsport, PA 17701. The National Collegiate Athletic Association allows for such donations due to extreme circumstances.