Edison, NJ Gas Pipeline Explosion, Mar 1994

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Edison, N.J. (AP) -- An explosion today in an underground natural gas pipeline destroyed eight apartment buildings in a fierce blaze. Twenty-nine residents were injured and hundreds forced to flee.
The explosion shortly after midnight rocked the large Durham Woods Apartments and shot up a pillar of flame that could be seen as far away as Pennsylvania. One resident died of a heart attack.
"It sounded like three 747s were revving up their engines," said tenant Jim Nemeth. "I ran out and all I saw was red. It was like daylight. I thought we had been bombed."
Most of the injured, all complex residents, were treated for smoke inhalation or burns on their feet. The heart attack death of a 32-year-old woman resident, whose identity was not released, was being counted as explosion-releated, authorities said.
Authorities said they had no people confirmed to be missing. But dogs trained to sniff out bodies were being brought to the scene to search through the smouldering rubble.
At least eight buildings in the complex were destroyed. The mayor's office said there are more than 60 buildings in all, each having eight to 12 apartments.
"One building was vaporized," said John Matty, a dispatcher for the Middlesex County Sheriff's Department. "There are bricks blown all over the place."
Lisa Sternstrom, one of an estimated 1,500 residents rousted by the blast, said the blast jolted her out of bed.
"I looked out my patio door and all I saw was a large orange glow," she said. "I guess from the sound of the boom, I thought maybe it was a plane that had crashed around the apartment complex."
She and other residents decided that the railroad tracks that run near the complex would be the best exit route. "We ran barefooted along the railroad tracks for about a mile and I kept looking back, thinking we were going to die."
The cause of the blast was not immediately known, said John Barnett, spokesman for the line's owner, Texas Eastern Transmission of Houston.
The company closed valves on both ends of the ruptured section and the remaining natural gas eventually burned off. Firefighters spent the rest of the night and early morning hours battling fires at the apartment complex.
The pilot of an American Airlines flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to New York saw the fireball from 11,000 feet and 20 miles away.
"I thought someone had nuked Newark," Jan Shagam said. He said it was "just a fireball that went up probably 300 feet in the air."
The flames could also be seen from rooftops in New York City's Brooklyn, across New York Harbor, and as far away as Bucks County, Pa., northeast of Philadelphia.

The Progress Clearfield Pennsylvania 1994-03-24