Woman who died in massive NJ gas explosion identified, but many questions remain

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EWING TOWNSHIP, NJ (PIX11) – Many questions remain in the wake of an explosion in a South Jersey townhouse community that left dozens of people’s homes uninhabitable, but late Wednesday afternoon, one major questioned was answered.  The local medical examiner was able to positively identify the woman who died in the explosion.

Linda Cerritelli, 62, had lived in the home at 28 Crockett Lane in the South Fork condo community, about five miles from the statehouse in Trenton.  Her badly burned body was found on the hood of a car within a few yards of her home on Tuesday, about four hours after the explosion.

It happened just before 1:00 P.M. on Tuesday.  Now, investigators try to figure out what caused a ruptured gas line to ignite, and they try to determine if an evacuation had been necessary at the first sign of potential trouble.  Meanwhile, Cerritelli’s neighbors and friends cope with sorrow as they slowly try to regain a sense of normalcy.

“Yesterday, I was just in shock,” said Joyce Krisak, who was able to return home to her home in the South Fork complex late Tuesday night.  “And today,” she said, “I sat in my home and cried, and I just kept crying.  …The whole thing is devastating, horrible.  You’re in shock, you can’t believe it.  It’s like a war zone.”

Krisak is one of the few hundred residents of this condo community, or what’s left of it.  She considers herself lucky, since her townhome is located just outside of the zone of 55 homes that residents can’t move back into because they are too badly damaged, or are condemned or even leveled.

Resident Anita Lenobel lives in that zone, and she says she’s lucky, too.  “I left my house 30 minutes before it started.  I went shopping.  Then my daughter called me.  All her friends fom around the country were Facebooking her [saying], ‘There was an explosion.’  I had no idea.  I was in Shop Rite.”

NJ gas explosion

Police officers and firefighters took Lenobel and a few dozen other South Fork  residents into their homes to collect belongings.  After that, they were required to leave so that the homes could be boarded up or be prepared for demolition.

“I don’t know how long this [time away] is going to be,” Lenobel said.  “There’s no electric, no gas, and they told me I’ve gotta call a plumber and shut off my water. …Some things fell [in my home], windows busted, my kitchen floor is buckled.”

But Lenobel’s home can be salvaged.  That’s not the case for at least ten other homes in the South Fork development.  Most of those ten had structural damage so severe, they’ll have to be torn down.  In fact, at least half of the condemned homes are missing most of an entire wall face.  Two of the ten condemned homes were leveled by the blast.

Those two homes were at 26 and 28 Crockett Lane, a side-by-side duplex.  A woman named Lisa, who did not want to giver her full name, had lived at 26 Crockett Lane with her two children.  Linda Cerritelli, the woman who died, had lived next door.  Lisa told PIX11 News that she’d brought her children to the explosion site on Wednesday in order to give them closure, which they felt they could get by seeing the pile of embers and metal that’s all that’s left of their home.

It was destroyed after some subcontractors were doing electrical repairs at 28 Crockett Lane just before noon on Tuesday.  The subcontractors, from the maintenance company Henkels and McCoy, which had a contract with PSE&G, reported hitting a gas line.  PSE&G workers responded, and an hour later, around 12:55 P.M., the line exploded, injuring all seven workers.  Two of them are still in the hospital recovering from fractured bones and other medical issues.

Meanwhile, the cause of the explosion is still undetermined, and so is whether or not the PSE&G workers had to evacuate residents when gas was smelled early Tuesday afternoon.  The utility released a statement Wednesday saying it would not comment until the investigation is complete.

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