PATERSON, N.J. (AP) — Two multifamily houses were destroyed in an explosion Tuesday morning shortly after firefighters arrived to investigate a possible gas leak and evacuated residents. A third home was so badly damaged it would have to be razed, officials said.
No residents were injured in the blast in Paterson, but 38 people were either displaced or left homeless. Authorities said 10 firefighters were being evaluated at hospitals for possible ear damage and other minor injuries.
Firefighters who responded to the scene minutes after residents reported a possible gas leak heard hissing sounds coming from one of the homes and quickly evacuated people, city officials said.
Fire Chief Michael Postorino said 15 people lived in the three homes that were destroyed. Officials said 12 other buildings were damaged in the blast, with windows being blown out at some while the roofs of others were pierced by flying pieces of wood.
Charlie Hayek, the owner of a nearby store, told WNBC-TV that the owner of one of the homes came outside before the explosion to complain about the gas smell. He said the blast occurred not long after people had evacuated from their homes.
"If it happened 10 minutes before, it would have been a lot worse," Hayek told the station.
Public Service Electric & Gas, New Jersey's largest utility, said later Tuesday morning that it had turned off gas mains and electric service in the area. The utility said it didn't yet know the cause of the blast but would work with local officials to investigate it.
Homes and businesses on several nearby blocks were evacuated as a precaution, and debris from the destroyed homes littered the street. Firefighters remained on scene early Tuesday afternoon, checking for any remaining hot spots or other problems. Many of the evacuated residents were congregating in a nearby park, awaiting word on when they would be allowed to return home.
A house explosion in New York City a week ago killed a fire battalion chief who was hit by falling debris. Authorities said the Bronx blast might have been caused by a tampered gas main. Two people have been arrested in connection with the explosion.