PATERSON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A gas leak was believed to be to blame for an explosion that destroyed two homes Tuesday morning in Paterson.
As CBS2’s Ali Bauman reported late Tuesday, it was truly incredible to learn that no one was killed in the explosion that leveled the residences. And officials said many people came close to a very different outcome.
At least 38 people were left homeless by the blast, which destroyed two buildings containing four residences.
Late Tuesday night, floodlights illuminated the pile of rubble left in the middle of the road after the explosion, CBS2’s Jessica Layton reported. Surveillance video captured the moment it shook people to the core.
The chain of events began when Paterson firefighters did a “rapid evacuation” of residents after being called to a house at 16 Goshen St. on a report of a gas smell around 9 a.m. Tuesday, Paterson Fire Chief Michael Postorino said.
PHOTOS: Paterson House Explosion
“They could hear the gas hissing out,” Postorino said. “We knew by the hissing we could hear, that obviously there was a high level of gas leak.”
Then around 9:24 a.m., authorities said the house exploded. The blast reduced the homes at 16 Goshen St. and 18 Goshen St. to rubble, and sent debris flying onto the rooftops of nearby homes and across the street.
One nearby resident who lives four or five blocks away said his house shook.
“Like September 11th,” he told CBS2’s Bauman. “Big explosion and a lot of dust.”
“I came out and I saw people running towards our area,” another witness said. “Then all of the sudden, I see all of the smoke and it was all really scary.”
Mohamed Omar Alsffras is originally from Syria, but moved to Paterson three year ago because he felt it was safer. Tuesday morning, he awoke to firefighters screaming to get out of his house — which was feet away from the explosion.
“The whole house shook,” he said through an interpreter.
“You saw a big cloud of smoke, debris, shattered windows,” said neighbor Al Abdelaziz. “We all ran toward Goshen Street.”
Another nearby resident said he got his family out of the house and called 911.
“When I open the door, I smell a lot of gas,” he told WCBS 880’s Kelly Waldron. “And then I hear the gas.”
One mother of twin 2-year-old boys said they were walking home and smelled gas.
“I called 911 and we called everyone we knew here to get out because there was a gas leak and then the firefighters came and they were trying to evacuate everyone and have them leave the premises,” she said. “After about 15 minutes of standing here, the house just exploded.”
Another woman said she grabbed her 2-year-old daughter.
“I just woke up my brother, knocked on the door of the attic to my sister-in-law and said, ‘come on, we’ve got to go,'” she told 1010 WINS’ Al Jones. “Right, literally two seconds after I got of the house, the explosion happened.”
DroneForce 2 flew over the scene of the two flattened buildings and another 15 that were damaged. The other houses sustained some sort of damage that ranged from windows being blown out to more significant structural damage, Postorino said.
The blast affected at least 200 people in the neighborhood, and smashed several cars parked outside.
Authorities said 15 firefighters suffered minor injuries and three police officers were being evaluated, but everyone else was accounted for and safe – thanks to neighbors helping neighbors.
Hours after the blast, Crews were demolishing a third house.
One man said his aunt had been packing for a funeral in Turkey when she smelled gas.
“The owner’s father had passed away, so his wife downstairs– my aunt — went downstairs to get a package for luggage so she could go overseas, and that’s when she smelled it and heard the gas, and she ran outside and informed the neighbors – which is also our relatives – ‘Get out!’” said Chet Kucep.
Kucep said his aunt was distraught.
“It’s painful beside the death,” he said. “Twenty years ago, my house burnt too, so I know what they’re going through.”
Kucep’s aunt’s neighbor also smelled the gas and rushed to help.
“When I smelled the gas, I saw the lady down cry and call me, and then I say, ‘What happened?’ and she can’t explain because she’s nervous, and then I go and I hear the gas, and I told her to, get out, get out of there, because it’s dangerous,” said neighbor Ramon.
The scene is too unsafe for Mohamed Alsffras to look at the destruction. So he has no belongings. But he and his neighbors all have their lives thanks to those firefighters who put theirs on the line.
“If it wasn’t for them, maybe he wouldn’t be here right now talking to you guys,” a woman with Alsffras said.
Investigators late Tuesday were still trying to determine the cause of the explosion. Goshen Street was to remain closed overnight.
PSEG said it had no reports of a gas leak before the blast.
Meanwhile, a long cleanup was in order. Paterson Mayor Jose Torres said demolition crews need to be brought in before the block can be opened back up.
The American Red Cross was assisting 37 people late Tuesday.
PSEG said it has shut down the gas service to all homes on Goshen Street between Getty and Main streets, and will restore the gas when it is safe to do so.
Passaic Valley Water is also advising customers that there may be discolored water in Paterson due to fire hydrant use because of explosion.