By Lauren Wanko
It looks like a warzone. Melted siding, boarded up windows and a wall of burnt cinder block surround a massive pile of debris. Investigators comb the scene, building inspectors continue to search houses. Ewing’s mayor says PSE&G did identify the gas line, struck by contractor Henkels & McCoy.
“There was a three-quarter-inch gas line and a two-inch line. They in fact did hit the main gas line which is a two-inch one,” said Ewing Mayor Bert Steinmann.
Steinmann says officials are still investigating whether contractors followed correct protocol.
“We know that gas line was marked and that there is a margin of error of around 18 inches as far as which way or another but PSE&G or anybody else doesn’t guarantee the depth so they’re supposed to dig down to the gas line to find it, measure that depth. We don’t know whether that happened or didn’t happen,” Steinmann said.
Around the blast site, 32 units are uninhabitable. Of those, 12 are expected to be torn down. Anthony Nini’s aunt and uncle live in one of the townhomes damaged by the explosion. He carries empty boxes in the hopes of saving photos. Nini thinks the house will be bulldozed.
“It’s a matter of salvaging what we can. Things can be replaced as long as they’re safe. That’s all,” Nini said.
Other Ewing residents worry a similar gas explosion might happen in their neighborhood.
“Where I live, they do the same thing. They dig, PSE&G puts flags out so they don’t hit a line,” said Thomas Tighue.
Tighue wonders why Henkels & McCoy was contracted by PSE&G, despite the fact that Henkels & McCoy has received numerous citations from OSHA for trench-safety hazards and other alleged issues.
A PSE&G spokesperson says they’re confident in Henkels & McCoy.
“We go through a very rigorous technical procurement process with all of our contractors and each supplier must complete the PSE&G health and safety questionnaire and annually submit their OSHA verified rate sheets. Henkel & McCoy was qualified,” said PSE&G Director of Gas Distribution Mike Gaffney.
Ewing resident Timothy Alvin says his cousin is one of the seven PSE&G workers injured in the explosion. He hasn’t spoken to him yet.
“Both his legs were broken. They operated on him. He’s doing fine right now,” Alvin said.
The Ewing Police Department is now listening to taped 911 calls, hoping to glean more information. As for the ignition point, the mayor says that’s something investigators may never be able to identify.