By Chelsea Karnash, Cleve Bryan, Mark Abrams, and Diana Rocco
EWING TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBS) — A female resident of a town home development was killed and seven utility workers were injured after a powerful explosion and fire in Ewing Township, Mercer County Tuesday.
The explosion occurred just off I-95 at 28 Crockett Lane in the South Fork housing community around 1 p.m.
Lt. Ron Lunetta of Ewing Township Police says the female victim was found on top of a parked car near the explosion scene.
“Because of the condition of the body, we’re not able to ID it. We’ll have to wait for the autopsy and go through the autopsy procedure to do that so we’re 100 percent sure and then we’ll have to make notification of kin after that,” he said.
Lunetta says the burned body was found by a cadaver dog.
Chopper 3 was over the scene around 1:30 p.m. A large plume of smoke was visible in the sky near the area, and flames could be seen shooting from a home that appeared to have been leveled in the explosion. Debris could also be seen scattered throughout the area, including in the trees and on the roofs of nearby homes.
Other nearby dwellings were on fire, and residents had to be evacuated. Those residents were taken to the West Trenton Fire House at 40 W. Upper Ferry Road (See Related Story).
PHOTOS: Ewing Township Explosion
Hospitals in the area were reportedly in disaster mode, and medics from as far as Bucks County responded to the scene.
According to officials, at least seven workers were injured in the blast. Eyewitness News reporter Diana Rocco reports that five people were taken to Trenton Capital Health, and treated for head trauma and broken bones. One person underwent emergency surgery suffering from two broken legs, according to family members.
Two other workers were taken to the Hopewell campus for less serious injuries, then treated and released.
Keith White’s brother, a worker, was uninjured in the explosion. White says, “Thank God my brother is okay. It looks like the World Trade over there. It’s very bad.”
Dr. Louis D’Amelio of Capital Health says, “The injuries that we are currently treating here are extremity injuries and some concussions.”
He added, “From the devastation we saw at the scene I was expecting much more.”
Rocco reports of the seven workers that were injured, four have been released from the hospital. Three are being held overnight, two of them for observation. All are in stable condition.
Eyewitness News reporter Cleve Bryan arrived on the scene around 1:45 p.m. He reported several ambulances leaving the area and at least 25 people milling about. Witnesses said the explosion was incredibly loud and that doors and windows were blown off numerous homes.
Bryan spoke to one man who said he heard the explosion and suffered an injury to his hand.
“I was getting off my couch … I got up, and there’s was just this very loud explosion. Right after that, my front door — glass door — got shattered. And I kinda flew back … from the explosion,” Matt Ianni said.
“The fact that I got blown off my feet from 50 feet away … there’s gotta be some injuries,” he added.
“The house [that exploded] was completely engulfed,” a woman told Bryan. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It was devastating.”
That woman also said she saw several people either staggering around in shock or on the ground with injuries.
Neighbor Joanne Moon said, “My husband thought a plane had hit because we were right here near the airport. And, we knew, we just could not even think. It was that horrifying.”
“It felt like a refrigerator fell in the apartment above me,” neighbor Abdel Gordon said.
Gordon took video as flames spread through out the townhouses on Crocket Lane. You can see what appears to be utility workers on the ground.
“There were gas workers laying outside, there was nothing left of the house,” neighbor Marsha Brown said.
She added, “There were gas workers with broken bones, gashes, cuts, there were about three or four. Then, a gas worker that was walking around in shock.”
PSE&G crews quickly shut off the gas and electricity. Around 2:15 p.m., the company released a statement on the explosion that said a contractor was on the scene working on the line when it became damaged and then ignited. PSE&G gas crews had just arrived on scene to investigate when there was an ignition.
As of 3:30 p.m., the fire was out, but firefighters were still treating hot spots.
Meanwhile, the I-95 ramp at exit 2 southbound to 579/Bear Tavern Road was shut down and a staging area set up at 850 Bear Tavern Road. The ramp has since been reopened to traffic. And the nearby Lore School said that all students were safe.
At 3 p.m., Ewing Township officials held a press conference to update on the incident.
Lt. Ron Lunetta said a call was received around 12:51 p.m. A subcontractor for Henkels & McCoy operating on behalf of PSE&G, was working in the complex. That person felt he’d struck something, so he called to report it. The explosion occurred shortly thereafter.
Lunetta said the injured are all contractors, either for Henkels & McCoy or PSE&G.
“It’s a pretty horrific scene down there,” Lt. Lunetta added.
A search dog was brought to the scene and late in the afternoon hearts broke at the news of a woman found dead outside.
“A very nice lady, always said hello, said hello to the dog, you know a nice lady,” neighbor Robert Salup said.
Though grateful to be alive, dozens are now wondering what to do next.
“Scared and homeless and I’m just still in shock I think, my husband as well,” Moon said.
Authorities say at least 10 homes were destroyed by the explosion and fire. Occupants of 55 other units won’t be able to go back into them until building inspectors check them.
Officials says people living in units evacuated, but not damaged, will be allowed back in their homes Tuesday night.
The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office is leading the investigation, working with Ewing Township Police and the state fire marshal’s office.