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N.J. house explosion: What to do if there's a gas leak

The explosion occurred Wednesday morning, killing one person and injuring 15 people at a house in Elizabeth, N.J. Officials from a local utility company said they hadn't discovered a gas leak, but the investigation was ongoing.

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    Officials investigate the inside of a house explosion, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015, in Elizabeth, N.J. Officials say the explosion was caused by gas. The blast leveled the two-family duplex.
    (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
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An apparent gas explosion at a house in northern New Jersey killed one person and injured 15 others on Wednesday morning.

Fire officials in Elizabeth, N.J., near Newark, received a call around 8 a.m. about the blast, which flattened the two-story house “like a pancake,” Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage told reporters.

They were able to rescue 14 people from the house, while one man escaped on his own after the explosion on the second floor caused the house to catch on fire, Mr. Bollwage said.

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Some of the house’s occupants were still sleeping when the blast occurred, leaving two people with critical injuries. All the occupants were taken to local hospitals, the mayor said. It also damaged seven houses nearby, including three which will have to be demolished.

"I got hit in the face by my TV set," Kayon Pryce, who owns the house next door, told the Associated Press. "The explosion actually tossed my bed upward, tossed me out of bed and knocked my phone out of my hand. I'm just happy to be alive."

Investigators from local utility company Elizabethtown Gas were busy inspecting the house. Duane Bourne, a company spokesman, told Reuters they hadn’t found any gas leaks, but the investigation was ongoing.

With more than 177 million Americans relying on natural gas in their homes, according to the American Gas Association, there are several things people can do when they suspect there may be a gas leak.

If you smell gas (such as a “rotten egg” smell) or hear the hiss of a possible leak, you should check to see if the burners on your stove are off, and then open the windows to ventilate the house.

If something is obviously wrong, like sparks or flames, you should evacuate the house immediately, warn others nearby and then call 911 from a safe location.

But if you’re inside, the burners are off and you still suspect a leak, don’t turn on the lights or use other electrical devices, cautions Captain James Altman of the Santa Monica Fire Department.

“That could lead to a spark, which causes an explosion," Mr. Altman told USA Today last year. "You want to make sure you have a flashlight handy."

If you notice the grass or bushes outside have suddenly turned brown or look more rusty, that could be a sign of gas pouring out of the pipes, you should call 911 immediately and then call the gas company.

Other signs of a leak include dirt and dust blowing from a hole in the ground or bubbling in wet or flooded areas.

In Elizabeth, neighbors said the explosion caught them by surprise.

"I heard a loud boom and the house shook a little," Lisset Garcia, who lives about two blocks away, told the Associated Press, saying she was in bed with her daughter when the house exploded. “At first, I thought it was a small earthquake or something,” she said.

Material from Reuters and the Associated Press was used in this story.

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