NBC10.com - Jesse Gary
Fire officials will continue their investigation Tuesday's house explosion in Ewing Township that killed one and sent others to the hospital.
A woman's body was found on the hood of a car at the site of a gas explosion in Ewing Township, N.J., Tuesday evening, several hours after the blast rocked a housing development in the Mercer County community. The explosion injured seven other people, obliterated one home and damaged more than five dozen other units in the condominium complex. At least 10 of those homes were so heavily damaged, they're considered a total loss, according to township police Lt. Ron Lunetta.
Search crews found the woman's body on a car parked outside 28 Crockett Lane, the home where the explosion occurred.
"Because of the condition of the body, we are not able to ID her. We have to wait for the autopsy and go through the autopsy procedure to do that so we're 100 percent sure," Lunetta said.
The explosion happened about 12:50 p.m. on Tuesday while workers were trying to repair a gas line at 28 Crockett Lane inside the South Fork development. It left a swath of smoldering debris and damage that looked more like what you see after tornadoes -- crumpled metal, tree trunks pierced by the siding off homes, insulation and everyday items hanging in treetops.
"It reminds me of basic training in the infantry," said Josiah Perez who was home, across the street when the explosion blew out two windows in his house. "I heard this loud boom. It just rocketed the house. The china fell, the pictures fell. I looked outside and it's a bunch of flames and it was warm. It was hot."
PSE&G officials say they hired private contractor Henkels & McCoy to replace underground electrical service at the 28 Crockett Lane unit earlier in the day because neighbors in the area were having electrical problems. Officials say it was planned work and the area was surveyed and marked to make sure gas lines were not hit.
However, during the work, officials say a gas line was struck and damaged. PSE&G workers who came out to investigate and repair the damage were standing in front of the house when the explosion occurred.
"The gas main did not explode. We are investigating right now what the source of the ignition was and what ignited," said PSE&G Director Mike Gaffney.
The blast shook the area with such force, some people thought it was a plane crash.
"I was out having my lunch in my car and it shook my car and I looked back at the building because I thought maybe a plane had hit it,” said Carolyn Gavila, who works at a law firm about 100 yards from the development.
Five of the injured are public service workers according to Ewing Township Police Lt. Ron Lunetta. The two other victims work for Henkels and McCoy, Lunetta said. None of the injuries are life-threatening. Tuesday night, three of the injured workers were released from the hospital. The remaining four will spend the night for continued treatment.
"We're not sure how it happened," Lunetta said. "It's a pretty horrific scene down there."
Bryan Gentry was in his car outside the post office when he heard and felt the explosion. He saw the smoke and flames as he was heading home and shot some of the first video of the scene with his cell phone. "I was just blown away. I couldn't believe what I was seeing," Gentry said.
"When I got down to the end. I saw this one guy. He was just staggering and people were running towards him." Gentry said he parked his car and got out to see if he could help, but police were trying to secure the area and told him to leave.
"It just looked really dangerous, and nobody was really that eager to get too close to it." Gentry said the heat was so intense he could feel it inside his car.
Matthew Ianni, who lives across the street from the complex, says the explosion was so powerful it knocked him to the ground.
"I fell and tried to brace my fall," he said. "It blew me back and I fell to the ground. I was just in such shock I didn't really know what was happening."
Penny Ray, a journalist for The Trentonian describes walking up on the explosion site in the video below, "This is the house and it's completely gone. Well, this was the house," Ray says.
Power was cut off to the entire development and state and local inspectors were brought in to assess each unit. During an evening news conference, the mayor said it's likely that about 10 units are either destroyed or will have to be torn down.
"We are currently working on getting as many people as we can back into their homes," Ewing Township Mayor Bert Steinmann said.
Power was restored to some of the units Tuesday night. The mayor said dozens of households would remain off limits however at least until they could be inspected again during daylight hours.
On Wednesday morning, 55 units remained off-limits.
Red Cross officials set up a staging area outside the West Trenton Fire House for at least 60 displaced residents. The mayor and PSE&G officials visited some of the evacuees. Steinmann said some of the South Fork residents who may have to wait longer to get home, were worried about their pets.
"If it's safe enough, we will allow them to go in and retrieve their pets tonight," Steinmann said. "We're doing the best we can."
Crews are expected to survey the scene around 8 a.m. Wednesday.
John Sass, a Ewing Township resident, says he and his wife welcomed three displaced families inside their home.
"The people were scared," Sass said. "One of them had probably an 8-year-old who was crying uncontrollably. Their mother was crying also."
Workers will stay at the site throughout the night to secure the area. Another press conference with updated details on the investigation is scheduled to take place on Wednesday around 11 a.m.
Meanwhile, safety officials with OSHA say they plan on launching their own investigation into the explosion. A spokesperson for Henkels & McCoy told NBC10 the company is aware of the incident and cooperating fully with the investigation.