A gas explosion rocked a New Jersey neighborhood Tuesday morning, blowing up a house, injuring 15 people, two of them critically, and forcing at least 80 families from their homes, authorities say.
Authorities say a crew was working to repair a gas main leak near Oak Avenue and U.S. Route 9 in Stafford Township around 10:30 a.m. at the time of the blast. The explosion destroyed a nearby home, damaged another and shook houses more than a mile away, authorities and witnesses said.
"The house has been disintegrated," said Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora.
Six of the injured were gas company workers trying to locate the source of a leak that filled the neighborhood with a strong gas smell just before 9 a.m. Two of them were in critical condition at a hospital in Atlantic City, and authorities said at least one had to be given CPR at the blast scene.
Seven firefighters and two emergency medical service technicians also were injured, sustaining concussion-like symptoms from the shock wave of the blast.
About 80 homes in the area were evacuated due to safety concerns, utility officials said. Three hundred homes remain without gas service and some are also without electricity, although authorities say the situation is under control. Schools in the area were not evacuated.
Melissa Lewis, who lives across from the house that was destroyed, said she was preparing to get her kids out when she learned of the gas leak. She heard the explosion before she made it to her car.
"My windows blew out of my house and I dropped and I covered my daughter, because she was next to me," said Melissa Lewis. "I stood up and I heard them screaming outside and there were people be taken to the ambulance."
Lewis described a hectic scene in the seconds after the blast.
"I saw pieces of house floating all over my yard," said Lewis. "The insulation was all over the place and you could see the ambulances and people running around and there were big flames coming from the house."
Dramatic dash cam video captured the precise moment of the blast, but even that couldn't convey how deeply shocking the explosion was.
"It was crazy. The video does not do it justice," said neighbor Heather Tatur. "The way that it took and everything just moved."
Crews closed Route 9 as crews actively worked to correct the gas main break, said NJ Gas.
The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities is investigating the explosion and will make a final determination on a cause, though the investigation could take months to a year to complete.
A spokesman for the board says anyone who smells natural gas should immediately get out of the home and call 911.
-- Jen Maxfield and Checkey Beckford contributed to this report.