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N.J. Pipeline Reconstructed as Blast Victims Seek Aid

March 26, 1994|From Associated Press

EDISON, N.J. — Investigators on Friday began painstakingly piecing together a natural gas pipeline that exploded a day earlier, leveling eight apartment buildings and leaving 300 people homeless.

The last missing residents of the apartment complex were located Friday, authorities said.

At least 80 people were injured by the fire that the blast touched off early Thursday, but only one death was blamed on the explosion, that of a 32-year-old woman who suffered a heart attack.

After touring the site, Small Business Administration officials said Friday that residents of the complex were eligible for federal disaster loans to offset an estimated $23 million in damage.

Houston-based Panhandle Eastern Corp., owner of pipeline operator Texas Eastern Gas Pipeline Co., was providing money for homeless people to stay temporarily in hotels and to buy necessities.

Weary and scared residents whose apartments had been spared filtered back to the area throughout the day, hoping to retrieve belongings. But code enforcement officers first had to finish checking all apartments that were still standing.

Mayor George Spadoro said most residents likely would be allowed back in their homes by today.

Some residents who lost everything came to a command center set up by police.

"I'm wiped out. I'm at a loss what to do," said Suman Sinha, who escaped the inferno with his wife and 5-year-old child.

SBA spokesman Erskine Bowles said nearly 500 units of the Durham Woods Apartments and five nearby businesses were significantly damaged. He said the agency hopes to set up a field office by Monday to begin taking applications for loans to homeowners, renters and businesses.

Gov. Christine Todd Whitman declared a state of emergency for the area Friday and ordered five natural gas suppliers to immediately reduce pressure in their transmission lines to 5% of the maximum level as a precaution.

Whitman's declaration will help residents qualify for federal aid and gives state police power to take any necessary action to protect residents.

National Transportation and Safety Board investigators spent the day at a 60-foot-deep crater created by the blast. The jagged edges of the 36-inch diameter steel transmission pipe jutted from the gaping hole. About 80 feet of pipe was missing, scattered by the powerful blast.

Workers searched with metal detectors and by hand for pipe fragments and planned to reassemble them to examine the surface at the point of rupture. The break may have been caused by corrosion, faulty materials or a massive buildup of pressure.

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