Residents return to assess damage from Ewing explosion

Watch report from Action News
March 7, 2014 6:58:43 AM PST
The cleanup continued in Mercer County Thursday as more people affected by Tuesday's gas explosion tried to return to their homes.

As the investigation into the blast moves forward, some people are still without power. Others are learning exactly how much they have lost.

"I'm waiting," said Theresa LoRe. "The insurance people are coming in and cleaning up before it is safe to get in. That's what they are going to do."

While victims of the explosion continued removing what they could from their shattered homes, construction crews are near the blast site boarding up heavily damaged houses.

"They are doing that from the basis of keeping people from getting inside, animals getting inside and keeping it from the weather elements," explained Ewing Township Construction official Bill Erney.

Mayor Bert Steinmann revealed Wednesday that PSE and G has told him the explosion that killed 62-year-old Linda Cerritelli occurred in the unit next door to her home at 26 Crockett Lane.

PSE and G set up an information tent in the neighborhood to assist residents with questions about reactivating power.

The township is working to recover from Tuesday's catastrophic explosion that leveled several homes and damaged 55.

"We are trying as best we can to get everybody back as soon as possible. There are some people that are scared and rightfully so and they might not want to come back, but we are hoping with time that will heal," said Mayor Bert Steinmann.

"What's in the house are things," said Karen Hassall.

Karen Hassall returned to her home for the first time Thursday. She has been taking care of her mother in Ocean County since Hurricane Sandy before this current disaster.

Hers is one of the houses with a red X on it which means it is condemned.

"One day at a time. Let it set in, call my insurance company and be grateful that I'm here," said Hassall.

Linda Cerritelli was her neighbor.

Tim Alvin arrived on the scene moments after the fiery blast and shot pictures, but had no idea his cousin Anthony was one of the PSEG crew hurt.

"He broke his leg; both his legs are broken. They operated on him, and he is doing fine right now," said Alvin.

Ewing business administrator Jim McManimon's house is on the condemned list. The back of it was blown off.

He and his family were among those salvaging what they could before crews came into board the place up.

"They are going in getting some of the personal belongings, but not going in the areas where it's really bad," said Bill Erney.

The condemned homes have now all been boarded up, the investigation is continuing and displaced residents are still trying to recover and find new homes.

Seven utility workers were injured in the blast that spawned a massive fire. Three of them were subcontractors working for Bluebell-based Henkels and McCoy, which has previously been fined $100,000 by safety monitors for violations at two New Jersey worksites.

Henkels and McCoy issued the following statement:

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of life, the injuries sustained and the significant property damage that resulted from the explosion yesterday, March 4th, in Ewing Township, NJ. Three Henkels & McCoy employees were among the injured and are receiving treatment. All of those affected, their families, and our co-workers are in our thoughts and prayers. We are continuing to commit our full resources as we work closely and transparently with the utility and the authorities on the post-incident investigation. Henkels & McCoy has embraced worksite safety as our leading operational value. Safety, and a commitment to continuous improvement are an important part of every facet of our business. Due to the ongoing inquiries, we will have no further comment on this matter at this time."

Mercer County is offering disaster recovery counseling services for first responders and affected residents at the community center on Lower Ferry Road Thursday and Friday nights until 8:00 p.m.

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