STAFFORD TOWNSHIP, N.J. — A natural gas utility crew discovered a crack in a two-inch, steel fortified-gas main three feet under a New Jersey house that exploded Tuesday morning, injuring 15 people and causing extensive damage to nearby homes.
The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office said that natural gas leaked through the crack in the pressurized pipe into a small underground water main and up into the basement of a house at 59 Oak Ave. in Stafford Township.
The smell of natural gas had been reported and a New Jersey Natural Gas crew was dispatched to the site along with other responders. The gas accumulated in the home until a basement utility pilot flame ignited it, blasting the home into fragments that littered the neighborhood.
Dean Barrett, 47, a NJ Natural Gas worker, remains in critical condition at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City. Ed Jones, another worker, was admitted to the same hospital in critical condition but has since been upgraded to stable.
Five other gas company employees were taken to Southern Ocean Medical Center in Stafford for treatment and have been released. The house explosion also injured six Stafford Township Volunteer Fire Company firefighters and two Stafford EMS workers. All were treated at Southern Ocean Medical Center Tuesday and released.
According to the Asbury Park Press, the faulty gas main is not old by industry standards. It was installed in 1981 and provides services to 335 customers. The gas company repaired and retested the line, deeming it safe late Tuesday night.
Neighbors, some of whom have been displaced, told the Asbury Park Press that property damage to nearby homes is severe, with blown-out windows, doors, and walls. Parts of the shattered house and its contents, including wood, insulation, shingles, toys, billiard balls, glass and other debris, are strewn across neighboring rooftops, lawns and streets.
Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the gas main to crack.
The Asbury Park Press said the blast reminded some local residents of a natural gas explosion that occurred at a Petco about 50 miles south in Eatontown 10 years ago. That explosion killed dozens of dogs, cats, and other animals and trapped two people “under a mountain of rubble.”