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20 homes remain uninhabitable after New Jersey explosion

SHARE 20 homes remain uninhabitable after New Jersey explosion

EWING, N.J. — The contractor working at the site of a massive explosion that killed one person and injured seven workers recently had been fined more than $100,000 by federal safety monitors for problems at two other work sites.

At least 20 homes were uninhabitable Wednesday at the town house development where a gas leak led to the explosion. Officials were trying to establish the ignition point but said they may never be able to do so.

Police said an autopsy was underway on a woman whose body was discovered on a car near the site of the explosion, and until it was complete they would not identify her. It wasn't immediately clear if she lived in the house that was leveled in the blast.

A contractor working to replace a home's electric service damaged a gas line, officials from the utility Public Service Electric & Gas said. The utility was told of the damage around noon Tuesday and crews were repairing the line about an hour later when the explosion happened, PSE&G spokeswoman Lindsey Puliti said.

Though the damage caused a gas leak, the pipeline itself did not explode, the utility said. The company said Wednesday it would have no further comment until the investigation is complete.

"We don't know yet what caused this accident," the company said in a statement.

Ewing Mayor Bert Steinmann said the gas line that was damaged had been marked out and that investigators don't yet know what went wrong. He said it's possible they will never be able to identify the point of ignition.

Authorities have said at least 55 units at the development received some kind of damage. The development remained littered Wednesday with shingles and plywood, with clumps of insulation still clustered in trees. Blue tarps were going up over damaged rooftops.

The private contractor that had been replacing electric service to the house that was leveled was fined more than $100,000 last year by federal safety monitors for problems at two other work sites. Records provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration show that Blue Bell, Pa.-based Henkels & McCoy was fined $70,000 in March 2013 for safety violations at a site in Bayonne and $42,000 for violations in Neptune in August.

The violations involved signaling and warning signs and protection of workers during excavations. The company is contesting the fines.

The company said it was deeply saddened at the loss of life and will cooperate fully with the investigation.

Residents of homes deemed uninhabitable were being allowed to return to retrieve medicines and other belongings.

Meryl Klein said she and her husband returned briefly to their home Tuesday night to grab clothes and other necessities, then spent the night at a hotel.

Klein said she couldn't see how much her home was damaged because it was too dark, but didn't believe it was that extensive. The house had a sticker labeling it as uninhabitable but she said believed officials were erring on the side of caution.

Some of the displaced were being sheltered at a firehouse, while others were staying with family and friends.

The seven people injured were all PSE&G workers, the utility said.

Associated Press writer David Porter in Newark contributed to this report.