A woman was killed and seven other people were injured Tuesday in a gas explosion that destroyed at least 10 homes in a Crockett Lane development.
According to Ewing Police, around 1 p.m. Tuesday, a major gas explosion in the South Fork housing development damaged 55 condominiums; completely obliterated one home and leaving nine others beyond repair.
A woman was also killed in the blast, and her body was found on top of a car that was parked near the site of the explosion as personnel were conducting a door-to-door search of the complex. Seven other people were injured as well, but their injuries are considered non-life-threatening, according to police.
“There was a big boom,” South Fork resident Rick Austell said Tuesday afternoon. “My house shook, and we all thought a tree had fallen until we saw the smoke.”
According to Lt. Ron Lunetta of Ewing Police Department, utility workers from Henkels and McCoy were using a horizontal drilling machine to repair an electrical problem in the area when they struck what they believed to be a gas line. The workers then stopped digging and notified PSE&G.
Police are unsure how much time lapsed between when the workers struck the gas line and when PSE&G arrived on-scene. But they are sure of one thing: there was a large explosion.
“It’s a pretty horrific scene down there,” Lunetta said around 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Police say five PSE&G employees and two Henkels and McCoy workers were injured in the blast. The two Henkels and McCoy subcontractors were taken to Capital Health Medical Center in Hopewell and later released.
The five PSE&G employees were taken to Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton, and two were expected to be released Tuesday evening. The other three were held overnight for observation with injuries ranging from broken limbs, soft-tissue injuries and concussions. One worker underwent surgery for his injuries, according to hospital personnel.
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.
“I was one of the only people there at first,” South Fork resident Marsha Brown said. “The house was completely engulfed, and flames were shooting everywhere. It took way too long for the fire engines to get here. There was a gas worker on the ground in shock, and he was crying. I saw about three people hurt. There was blood, broken legs, bruises cuts and gashes. I have never seen anything like that in my life.”
“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.”
In the wake of the disaster, stories of people helping other people emerged. One of them unfolded in a neighborhood near the scene.
“My wife and I were having lunch at approximately 12:20 p.m. and heard a huge explosion,” said John Sass. “We didn’t know whether a plane crashed or whatever.”
Sass’ concern that it was a plane crash was warranted given their locale near the Trenton-Mercer Airport. However, once Sass and his wife exited their home, it was clear that it wasn’t a plane crash.
“I got my wife out of the house and we noticed the flames (behind you, he told Trentonian photojournalist Jackie Schear),” Sass said.
It was at that point Sass’ neighborly instinct kicked in. Sass and his wife welcomed families into their home after they spotted them standing in the cold, some with babies. Sass said he welcomed two or three families into his home until they could catch up with relatives. Sass said that the people he took in finally met up with family in Flemington.
The Mercer County Department of Transportation and the Mercer County Park Commission were called on-scene to supply portable light fixtures to aid in the search and rescue effort. And Mercer County Sheriff’s Officers were also dispatched to the reception center at the West Trenton Fire House, where displaced residents were sent until law enforcement deemed the neighborhood safe for re-entry.
Firefighters from Pennington, Hopewell and Hamilton assisted in extinguishing the blaze. And Trenton EMS provided support as well.
The cause of the explosion remains under investigation.Trentonian