STAFFORD TOWNSHIP, NJ (CBS) — Fifteen people were injured, including six firefighters and seven gas company employees, during a home explosion in Ocean County, New Jersey Tuesday morning, officials said.
The explosion and subsequent fire happened just after 10:30 a.m. at 59 Oak Avenue in Stafford Township.
Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora told Eyewitness News that several homes in the area were evacuated after some residents complained of a gas odor.
Workers with New Jersey Natural Gas were called to the scene to investigate the odor. At some point during their investigation, an explosion occurred.
Heather Tatur, who lives two houses away from the explosion on Oak Avenue says she was unaware an evacuation was underway.
“No one ever came to our door. They only evacuated a couples homes. I got a call from a neighbor who was at the grocery and said “I heard it was a leak and they’re evacuating us.’ Within two minutes of that the walls shook, the pictures came off, blinds came off, stuff came out of the cabinets, it was just chaos from there,” she said.
Officials say six firefighters, seven gas company employees and two EMS were injured in the explosion. Two gas workers are in critical condition and were taken to Atlantic Trauma Center, according to an official from NJ Natural Gas.
Employees working at a dentist office about one-third of a mile from the explosion also heard and felt the blast.
“All of a sudden the door opened and then shut, then it was a big bang,” said Nina Sepulveda.
“I was taking x-rays on a patient when it happened. It was a loud bang and I thought maybe something had fallen on our building,” said Caitlin Janson.
Authorities say the explosion leveled at least one home and nothing remains except a block basement.
Officials say that several homes on the block were also damaged.
Spodofora said approximately 75 homes were evacuated.
Chief Jack Johnson with the Stafford Township Volunteer Fire Department was one of the first responders on scene. He remembers being about 50 yards from the house when it exploded.
“It happened so quickly, debris was all around us. It just came from nowhere… and could knock you off your feet. I saw one of my guys get knocked to the ground. Something I never want to experience again,” said Johnson.
Stafford residents say they’re thankful for the brave responders who worked quickly to find the gas leak.
“As for the family of those workers, God bless them. Stay strong. Southern Jersey is here with you,” said resident Matthew Cramer.
NJ Natural Gas said the gas service has been turned off at the main.
Officials say about 300 homes have had their gas and electric shut off and crews will be on the scene throughout the night until service is restored.
Spodofora said at an afternoon news conference that a community center on 260 East Bay Avenue is open for residents who need shelter. There is also a hotline for customers affected: 800-221-0051.
Police say Route 9 traffic is open in both directions and Oak Ave is closed Rt. 9 to BogHollow/Perkins Lane.
The cause of the leak remains under investigation.
Stafford Township Police say NJ Natural Gas will be restoring gas around midnight and residents must be home to be restored.
Stafford police officers will be in the area all night.