NJ – By JIM WALSH,Courier-Post Staff
No deaths or injuries were reported Tuesday night as a natural gas explosion destroyed building N at the Pleasant Gardens apartment complex here on 30th Street.
The fire forced the evacuation of residents and others at the sprawling complex – formerly known as the Stockton Station apartments – according to Camden Deputy Fire Chief Thomas Quinn.
Dozens of apartments in the surrounding buildings were also evacuated as a precaution.
Officials said several residents from buildings M, N and O were seeking shelter through the Red Cross.
The fiery blast occurred about 15 minutes after local firefighters responded to a report of a gas odor shortly before 7 p.m., said Quinn.
The four-alarm fire, which was declared under control around 9 p.m., turned the apartment building into an inferno, with orange flames and black smoke billowing into the sky.
Quinn said the gas line at the complex was severed by a wall. Somehow the wall fell down and broke the gas line. At press time, Quinn did not know if it was related to the storm.
“We averted a tragedy tonight,” said Quinn, as he stood outside the smoking rubble of building N. “We had a lot of property damage, but we can live with that,” he said.
But building N residents, who watched flames destroy their homes and all of their belongings were not as philosophical.
Most said they were grateful to be alive, but mourned the loss of all their possessions including their pets.
“All of my money was in there. My medication is in there,” said Clifton Williams, 49, who is retired on disability. “I ain’t got a thing.”
James Harris, 44, who moved to his apartment about six months ago said he smelled gas shortly before officials knocked on his door.
“They knocked on everybody’s door and got us out,” said Harris. “I thought about going back to grab something, but after about 45 minutes the building exploded.”
Harris, who said the explosion happened about 6:30 p.m., lost many possessions, including ones dear to his heart.
“I’ve lost everything . . . my wedding rings . . . my wedding books . . . you can’t replace these things,” he said.
The building was surrounded by at least six fire trucks from Camden, Merchantville and Pennsauken. Firefighters poured water onto the flames and onto the surrounding buildings.
Several workers from PSE&G were present, but they declined to comment. At press time, no official comment was available.