Officials Investigate Cause of Deadly Gas Explosion

By Lauren Wanko

Charred debris are piled in front of damaged townhomes, insulation dangles from tree branches, windows are completely blown out. This is the scene of the deadly gas explosion.

“The house shook, it sounded like a bomb, pictures blew off the wall, curtains blew down,” said Ewing resident Norman Garrett.

Building inspectors are searching the 55 townhomes damaged by the explosion, which Ewing’s mayor says happened after Henkels & McCoy workers — contracted by PSE&G — hit a gas line as they were drilling to fix an electrical problem.

Henkels & McCoy has received numerous citations from OSHA for trench-safety hazards and other alleged issues. OSHA tells us they proposed fines of $70,000 for the company’s work in Bayonne and more than $40,000 for a Neptune work site. Henkels & McCoy do not return our request for comment.

“Drilling where there’s gas to me should be a pretty exact science because of the volatility and I think that’s something they’re gonna have to look at,” said Ewing resident Meryl Klein.

Ewing officials say the work area was marked out.

“It always concerns me when contractors get cited by OSHA,” said Ewing Mayor Bert Steinmann. “We’re gonna look at every possible scenario to make sure that whoever is digging in our township, whether it’s for the utility companies or not, that some sort of protocol is going to be followed, that’s something that we will work about that’s something our committee will talk about.”

Ewing’s mayor says he’ll also talk about that with PSE&G. A company spokesperson wasn’t at this morning’s press conference. The mayor planned to meet with PSE&G this afternoon.

Seven PSE&G employees were injured in the explosion. One resident was killed. Authorities have not yet identified the victim. Homeowner Linda Scatton watches from a distance as officials investigate the scene. She stayed in a hotel last night.

“All I can see is our house is the last one standing next to the three that were leveled and the windows are blown out, the garage door is buckled,” Scatton said.

She wonders if there’s anything she can salvage.

“It’s not the possessions as much as the memories there in the photos and furniture that’s been in the family for a long time,” said Scatton.

Officials estimate about 20 homes are uninhabitable. Residents were escorted back into their homes today to retrieve personal items.

“We still don’t know yet whether or not our house will be one of the ones that will not be habitable at all,” Klein said.

Now Klein — like so many other homeowners here — is left wondering if she’ll ever be able to go back home. Meantime officials say the investigation xxxxxxx.