1 Dead, 7 Hurt After Townhouse Complex Explodes in New Jersey

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    A gas leak and explosion destroyed at least 10 houses and damaged dozens of others at a suburban town house development Tuesday, killing a woman and injuring seven workers, authorities said. Gus Rosendale reports. (Published Wednesday, March 5, 2014)

    A gas leak and subsequent explosion destroyed at least 10 houses and damaged dozens of others at a suburban town house development in New Jersey Tuesday, killing a woman and injuring seven workers, authorities said.

    The woman's body was discovered late in the day on a car near the site of the explosion on Crockett Lane in Ewing, N.J., authorities say. Lt. Ron Lunetta said officials were not able to identify the victim and will await an autopsy for positive ID and cause of death. He added that no one else was thought to be missing.

    It also was not clear Tuesday night if the woman who was killed was inside a residence when the explosion occurred.

    At least 45 other units in the complex were damaged, police said. Officials were hoping that some of the displaced residents would be able to return to their homes by late Tuesday night, but said the majority of them would not be able to go home until Wednesday morning at the earliest.

    Many of the displaced residents were being sheltered at a local fire house, while others were staying with family and friends. Officials said they would try to accommodate residents who were being kept out of their homes but wanted to briefly return there so they could get their pets or important items such as medications.

    Ewing police were at the site overnight to secure the area and continue the investigation where possible, noting that those efforts would be hampered by darkness and large amounts of debris.

    A contractor worked to replace electric service to the house that exploded before the blast, officials from the utility PSE&G said. Around noon, the utility got a call that the contractor had damaged a gas line.

    Crews were repairing the line about an hour later when, PSE&G spokeswoman Lindsey Puliti said, "there was an ignition."

    The force from the explosion buckled windows in an apartment complex nearby, said resident Marsha Brown, and pictures fell from her walls.

    "It felt like a bomb," she said.

    She ran to the townhouse complex, saw a home engulfed in flames and two utility workers on the lawn with injuries that apparently included broken bones. She said she saw another worker on a sidewalk crying, being held by a woman.

    At least one home was a blackened pile of rubble, and others had damage, including windows that were blown out. Debris was widely scattered, with insulation hanging in some tree branches.

    "My body was shaking. I like to say I am calm, but I was shaking," said Brown, who had a day off from her job as an infant hearing screener at a hospital. "You could feel the flames, everything."

    A resident of the complex, Bryan Gentry, drove home minutes after he heard an explosion and as he got closer, saw a black smoke cloud. The fire was intensely hot, he said, and he saw one person walking away from the fire who appeared to be stunned.

    "It was just unreal," he said, adding that emergency crews responded "really fast."

    Children at a nearby elementary school were instructed to hide under tables and desks for as long as 20 minutes after the loud explosion rocked the area.

    "It was like a boom," said 9-year-old Devin Rosario. He said some kids were scared and crying.

    Police said all the children in the school were safe.

    The seven people injured were all utility workers, authorities said. Three of the workers had to be hospitalized, but none of their injuries were life-threatening, said Dr. Louis D'Amelio, trauma chief at Capital Regional Medical Center in Trenton. Injuries included concussions, broken bones and minor shrapnel wounds, he said.

    Normally during that time of day, most people in the neighborhood are at work and their kids are at school, Gentry said.

    Though the damage to the pipeline caused a gas leak that could lead to an explosion, the pipeline itself did not explode, a spokesman for the utility said.

    --Brian Thompson contributed to this story

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