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.
The company said it is cooperating fully in the Ewing investigaton.
"We are deeply saddened at the loss of life," company spokesman Dave Lamoreaux said. "Obviously this is a significant event for Henkels & McCoy as well. We are a 90-year-old company that prides itself on doing good, solid work in the community, and we will support the investigation in any way we can."
Residents returning to pick up clothing and medicine from their homes Wednesday included Anita Lenobell, who turns 67 Thursday. She said her kitchen floor had buckled, windows were damaged and some items had fallen off shelves and walls, but she didn't think the house was heavily damaged.
Lenobell, who lives just a few doors down from the blast site, said she had gone grocery shopping about a half hour before.
"I probably would have had a heart attack if I was here," she said.
Meryl Klein said she and her husband returned briefly to their home Tuesday night, then spent the night at a hotel.
Klein said she couldn't see how much her home was damaged because it was too dark. 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. Officials said none of the injuries was considered life-threatening.
Associated Press writer David Porter in Newark contributed to this report.