Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

One dead, 7 hurt in Ewing house explosion

Gallery: Explosion in Ewing

One person was killed, seven people were hospitalized and scores of housing units were destroyed or damaged after a townhouse exploded Tuesday afternoon in a Trenton suburb, sending a shock wave heard for miles.

All the injured were in stable condition with injuries ranging from respiratory difficulties to broken bones and concussions.

One person was found dead outside the home where the blast originated, police announced at a press conference around 5:15 p.m. That victim has only been identified thus far as a woman. Authorities would not confirm the victim is the woman reported missing from the home at the epicenter of the blast.

In all, 10 to 12 townhouses were destroyed. 

About 50 firefighters and another 40 to 50 utility workers looked over the devastation shortly before 5 p.m., surveying what looked like at least one property ripped to shreds.

Smoke still lingered from the pockets of destroyed homes. Whole windows were blown out of at least three nearby houses. Pieces of insulation were strewn across the bare trees along the unit block of Crockett Lane.

Emergency personnel were called around 1 p.m. to a home on the block, part of the South Fork development located in the Mountain View section of Ewing Township.

Employees of the Blue Bell, Pa.-based contracting firm Henkels & McCoy, which was working for PSE&G to replace an underground electric service, reported striking a gas line, according to a statement from PSE&G. PSE&G officials said the gas line was not ruptured but was damaged.

PSE&G gas crews had just arrived to investigate the reported damage when there was an ignition.

The "large explosion" that officials said was felt as far as seven miles away was reported by numerous witnesses at 12:51 p.m.

"It was a significant explosion," Ewing police Lt. Ron Lunetta said at a press conference a couple blocks away from the scene in the parking lot of Mountain View Golf Course.

Five PSE&G workers and two Henkels & McCoy employees were injured, Lunetta said. Two suffered non-life-threatening injuries, while five others were being held at local hospitals for observation.

The home where the explosion originated was destroyed, according to Lunetta. He called the blast site a "pretty horrific scene."

A woman's body was found on top of a parked car near the obliterated townhouse. Lunetta said a preliminary autopsy would help determine the age and identity of the severely burned corpse. Police did not believe any other residents remained missing.

In addition to the destroyed homes, another 40 to 50 townhouses suffered fire and structural damage. The units, initially described as condominiums, are actually two- and -three-story townhomes, according to Lunetta. The extent of their damage is not yet known.

Victoria Driver, 17, a high school student whose house on Wills Drive is directly behind the condo complex where the explosion occurred, said pictures on her home's walls fell from the force of the blast.

"I came home and my best friend who lives next door, she was really shaken up," Driver said. "It's scary that something like this would happen."

Driver said the glass doors at the rear of her friend's house were blown off their hinges.

Mayor Bert Steinmann said he hoped residents of about 30 homes would be allowed to return Tuesday night. Roughly 25 homes would remain evacuated until at least Wednesday morning.

Displaced residents remained at West Trenton Fire Station Tuesday night and were receiving aid from the Red Cross.

The cause of the explosion remains under investigation. Ewing police and the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office are handling the investigation. No federal authorities had joined as of 7:30 p.m.

The next time authorities will release an update to the ongoing investigation is at an 11:30 a.m. press conference Wednesday morning.

Brian X. McCrone and Alex Wigglesworth PHILLY.COM
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