20 homes still uninhabitable after NJ blast

EWING, N.J. (AP) — 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 New Jersey work sites.

Blue Bell, Pa.-based Henkels & McCoy was cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for violations involving signaling, warning signs and protection of workers during excavations. The company is contesting the fines.

Authorities said that they were still working to establish the ignition point in Tuesday’s blast at a town house development but may never be able to do so. At least 20 homes remained uninhabitable Wednesday, though residents were allowed back in to retrieve medicine, clothing and other belongings.

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.

Henkels & McCoy was working to replace a home’s electric service when it damaged a gas line, Public Service Electric & Gas said. The utility said it was told of the damage around noon Tuesday and crews were repairing the line about an hour later when “ignition” occurred, leveling the home and causing damage to more than 50 others.

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. He said it’s possible they will never be able to identify the point of ignition.

The development remained littered with shingles and plywood, with clumps of insulation still clustered in trees. Blue tarps were going up over holes in the homes.

Records provided by the OSHA show that 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.

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