An explosion and fire tore through a three-story apartment complex Tuesday morning and part of it collapsed, authorities said. Rescuers were searching for one person who lived in the building and could not be located.
&to=http://english.pravda.ru/accidents/21/97/384/16585_building.html' target=_blank>The blast, touched off by construction workers who hit a gas line, injured five people at the 24-unit building, said police Capt. Rick McGarril.
The 9:30 a.m. blast, which blew out windows, lifted nearby residents off their feet and sparked a fire whose smoke could been seen up to 10 miles (16 kilometers) away. Police initially said six people were injured, but later revised the number.
Several residents of the building said an elderly woman screamed for help because her husband was trapped inside the apartment closest to the blast. Authorities said they could not confirm whether a person was missing.
"I wanted to go in and look for him but there was no way," said David Coradin, 54, who was taking a shower in his apartment when the explosion blew out his front door and shattered all his windows.
The fire was brought under control but was still burning at about 2:40 p.m. and a search-and-rescue team was called in to look through the rubble. Authorities said they were comparing a list of residents to a list of people who got out of the building.
Law enforcement and utility company officials said preliminary investigations showed that a pit dug by construction workers who were trying to remove an underground oil tank collapsed and pinched a gas line just before 9 a.m. Utility crews were sent to the scene after residents nearby reported the odor of gas; 30 minutes later, the explosion shook the area.
Bergenfield Fire Chief John Pampaloni said was on the scene with several firefighters because of the gas leak when the explosion occurred. Pampaloni said he had not ordered the apartment complex evacuated because he didn't believe it was a dangerous situation.
Three of the injured were taken to Hackensack University Medical Center. One of them, a woman, was in critical condition with second- and third-degree burns, said Joseph Feldman, chairman of the emergency medicine department.
Two people were taken to Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, said spokeswoman Maria Margiotta. One was in stable condition and the other was treated and released.
Firefighters battled the blaze in subfreezing temperatures and evacuated several nearby homes in case it spread. Hundreds of emergency personnel were at the scene.
Richy Harps was in his apartment in the building next door when the blast hit.
"I was listening to music at the time and I heard an extremely loud explosion, which literally levitated me off the ground," he said. "Everyone was running outside clutching their clothes. It's a horror. It's like Ground Zero over there."
Mayor Richard Bohan said about 12 families were left homeless and that the borough would be collecting donated clothing and other items.
"Nobody has anything left. The need of the holiday is on us, and we could use anything," Bohan said.