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Explosion rocks N.J. apartment building; several injuries reported

Associated Press Writer

BERGENFIELD, N.J.- Construction workers hit a gas line Tuesday and touched off an explosion that tore through a three-story apartment building, causing at least part of it to collapse, authorities said.

Six people were injured, said police Capt. Rick McGarril.

County Sheriff Leo P. McGuire told MSNBC that authorities were trying to determine whether the one missing person was in the building at the time of the explosion. But other officials said they were trying to douse the blaze first.

"We need to stop the fire and stabilize the situation and then proceed with our search," said police Chief Thomas Lucas. About 400 to 500 firefighters, police and emergency medical workers were on the scene.

Law enforcement and utility company officials said preliminary investigations showed that a pit dug by construction workers who were trying to remove an underground oil tank collapsed and pinched a gas line just before 9 a.m. Utility crews were sent to the scene after residents nearby reported the odor of gas; 30 minutes later, the explosion shook the area.

Hackensack University Medical Center was treating three people, said hospital spokeswoman Lesley Bruno.

Jason Ariano was at work in a building around the corner when he heard a loud noise and felt the walls reverberate.

"I thought something hit the roof of my building," Ariano said. "The whole place shook. We walked outside and there was fire everywhere."

The explosion sent up plumes of smoke that could been see more than 10 miles away. Firefighters battled the blaze in subfreezing temperatures and evacuated several nearby homes in case it spread.

Mayor Richard Bohan said about 12 families were left homeless and that the borough would be collecting donated clothing and other items.

"Nobody has anything left. The need of the holiday is on us, and we could use anything," Bohan said.

Bergenfield, with a population of 26,000, is located six miles northwest of New York City.

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