Explosion Levels Homes; 1 Killed, 4 Critically Injured

Friday, October 19th 2007, 8:51 am
By: News On 6

IRVINGTON, N.J. (AP) _ An explosion leveled a house under construction and a vacant building next door early Friday, killing one worker and injuring four others.

Authorities were investigating whether someone broke into the house and broke a natural gas line.

The explosion was so powerful it caused debris to fly up to four blocks away and sparked several fires that were under control within two hours, Deputy Fire Chief Charles Weiss said. Emergency crews used search dogs and chain saws to rescue trapped construction workers from the smoking pile of splintered wood and siding.

The blast leveled the three-story house, which had been slated to be sold next week, and a vacant multifamily building next door. It happened about 7:30 a.m., right as construction workers arrived for work and noticed a possible break-in, authorities said.

``We believe there might have been a break-in and someone may have hit a gas line. That's a theory we're investigating,'' said Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith.

Four victims believed to be construction workers were taken to University Hospital in Newark in critical condition, and two of them were transferred to a Livingston hospital that specializes in burns, said University Hospital spokesman Rogers Ramsey.

A teen who said he was near the explosion was treated and released from University Hospital, Ramsey said. Three firefighters were treated for minor injuries, authorities said.

The names of victims were not immediately released. Rescue workers searched the debris until early afternoon to ensure no one was trapped.

There was a strong natural gas odor at the site of the explosion in Irvington, about 5 miles west of Newark, said Paul Loriquet, spokesman for the Essex County prosecutor's office.

John Buniewicz, 72, who lives a half a block away, spilled hot coffee on his kitchen floor as he heard the loud boom.

``It was so loud, I thought the roof came down, and I heard glass shattering all over the place,'' Buniewicz said.

The mayor said the neighboring vacant home destroyed by the blast was owned by the state's school construction agency and was set to be demolished. That home was vacant and tightly secured, said Michael Cricco, an agency project officer.