STAFFORD TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A natural gas explosion leveled a house and injured 15 people, two critically, after a gas main break Tuesday in a neighborhood at the New Jersey shore.
Seven of the injured were gas company workers trying to locate the source of a leak that filled the neighborhood with a strong gas smell.
Two of them were in critical condition at a hospital in Atlantic City.
Six firefighters and two emergency medical service technicians also were injured, sustaining concussion-like symptoms from the shock wave of the blast.
“The way I describe it: It happened so quickly,” said fire Chief Jack Johnson, one of the first responders who was trying to locate the source of the leak when the explosion happened. “With the explosion, we had debris all around us just come from nowhere.”
The cause of the 10:32 a.m. explosion has not been determined.
Video from the scene showed smoke billowing from the explosion site and piles of debris in the road next to where the house once stood in Stafford Township.
“By all accounts, totally destroyed the house at 59 Oak Avenue, there’s nothing left there but the basement foundation,” Capt. Thomas Delane said.
The family told CBS2’s Charlotte Huffman they feel lucky to be alive. None of the residents were home at the time of the blast.
But two doors down, Heather Tatur was home.
“The walls shook, all my pictures came off, blinds came off the wall, stuff came out of the cabinets,” she said. “And it was just chaos from there.”
Even employees at a dentist’s office a third of a mile away heard and felt the explosion.
“All of a sudden, that door opened and it shut and then there was a big bang,” described Nina Sepulveda, who works at the office.
Dozens of homes were damaged, including one house where the windows were blown out, Huffman reported.
“It looks like a war area,” Max Von Ness, a plowing contractor who was nearby when the explosion occurred, told 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten. “It’s just destruction. There’s debris all over the place.”
Von Ness, of Stafford Township, said he was driving in the area when he heard a loud explosion and felt the ground shake.
“It was kind of like a mini-earthquake,” he said. “You were thinking it was like a bomb.”
In all, 75 homes were evacuated. But Tatur said she was never alerted.
“I felt like we just weren’t kept informed as much as we should’ve been considering it was just a few houses from where we were,” she said.
About 300 homes remained without gas service, and some are also without electricity late Tuesday. Gas service was to remain shut off until at least Wednesday afternoon.
But people were allowed to return to their homes to collect items Tuesday night.
Police said no schools are near the site and none was affected by the explosion.
The explosion comes almost a year after a fatal gas explosion in Ewing that destroyed at least 10 houses, killed one woman and injured seven people in March 2014.
Officials are asking residents needing a place to stay to go to the shelter at the community center at 260 E. Bay Ave. A hotline is accepting calls from effected customers 800-221-0051.
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