Probe continues in fatal Ewing house explosion as residents return to homes

The investigation into what caused the explosion that killed a 62-year-old woman living in a Ewing townhome is underway, as other residents begin to pick up the pieces of what's left of their homes. (3/5/14)

EWING TOWNSHIP - The investigation into what caused the explosion that killed a 62-year-old woman living in a Ewing townhome is underway, as other residents begin to pick up the pieces of what's left of their homes.

The victim, Linda Cerritelli, was identified by dental records, according to Lt. Ron Lunetta.

Seven utility workers were also injured in the natural gas leak and explosion Tuesday at the South Fork complex. Officials say three workers remain hospitalized, and one is in serious condition. 

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Ewing Mayor Bert Steinmann says the investigation into the blast is underway, and that the town will review 911 tapes to try to determine whether a contractor followed protocol when they nicked the gas line. PSE&G says the Henkels & McCoy contractors should have called 911 before anyone else.

The utility said it has contracted work to Henkels & McCoy for a long time and still has confidence in them, even though the company has been cited and fined for safety violations in the past.
   
Nelson Menseses says their neighbor might still be alive if the first call had gone to first responders. "The protocol was missed obviously," he says. "911 calls went in. Gas was smelled. Gas was reported to the workers on-site. But nothing was done until the explosion took place." 

At a meeting Wednesday, many homeowners learned they could return to their homes, but don't know what they will be coming home to.

Bill and Linda Kauffman's townhome is just 100 feet from the worst of the blast and suffered extensive damage. "We have no idea whether or not there's any serious structural issues," says Bill Kauffman. "We haven't spent any time looking in the unit at all."

Steinmann has said that 20 or more of the 55 homes damaged in Tuesday's blast are uninhabitable right now. 

The Red Cross says it is assisting in any way possible, including financial assistance.

The mayor said anyone wishing to make donations is asked to call the township's hotline at 609-538-7587.

Police have released the scene so that cleanup and repairs can begin Thursday, but many homes will have to be torn down.

For news conference on fatal Ewing explosion, watch the clip to the left or click News 12 Extra on Optimum TV channel 612.

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