N.J. utility says damaged gas line explodes; 7 hurt

EWING, N.J. — A gas line damaged by a contractor exploded “like a bomb” while utility crews worked to repair it Tuesday at a town house development in New Jersey, and at least seven people were injured and several homes destroyed or damaged.

PSE&G utility got a call shortly before noon that a contractor had damaged a gas line, spokeswoman Lindsey Puliti said. Crews were working on it about an hour later when the gas line ignited.

The force from the blast buckled windows in an apartment complex nearby, said resident Marsha Brown, and pictures fell from her walls.

“It felt like a bomb,” she said.

She ran to the town house complex, saw a home engulfed in flames and two utility workers on the lawn with injuries that apparently included broken bones. She said she saw another utility worker on a sidewalk crying, being held by a woman.

Television footage showed at least one unit a blackened pile of rubble and damage to other homes, including windows blown out. Debris was widely scattered, with insulation hanging in some tree branches.

“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.”

Normally during that time of day, the people in the neighborhood are at work and their kids are at school, he added.

Flames could still be seen shooting up from the ground hours after the explosion.

The Capital Regional Medical Center in nearby Trenton said it was getting at least seven patients from the blast, including two with traumatic injuries.

The utility confirmed that two of its workers were among the injured. Puliti said they did not suffer life-threatening injuries.

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