On March 4, 2014, an explosion obliterated one house and damaged more than 60 others in a suburban housing development in Ewing, New Jersey. One woman was killed and seven other people were injured in the blast, caused by a natural gas leak.
And just two weeks ago, a gas explosion shook another New Jersey neighborhood, disintegrating a house in suburban Stafford Township. Fifteen people were hurt this time, two of them critically, and at least 80 families were forced out of their homes. From Philadelphia to Indianapolis, house explosions due to natural gas are making headlines, blowing homes to bits and sometimes leveling entire streets.
More than 177 million Americans rely on natural gas today, according to the American Gas Association. If you are one of them, you should make it a point to know where your gas meter is on your home, and how to operate it.
But what if you hear the hiss of a gas leak, or catch a whiff of a rotten egg smell? "There are a few quick things you can do," said Captain James Altman of the Santa Monica Fire Department.
- If you notice something obviously wrong like sparks or flames, evacuate your house immediately and call 911. "You want to make sure that you're at a safe distance," Altman advised. "You want to make sure you're across the street somewhere that you feel safe, and once you get there, you want to make sure you dial 911 from there."
- If you don't notice anything obviously wrong, make sure all the burners on your gas stove are turned off.
- If the stove is off and you suspect a leak, don't turn on the lights. "That could lead to a spark, which causes an explosion," Altman said. "You want to make sure you have a flashlight handy."
- Open all the doors and windows. "You want to make sure you ventilate the house," Altman said.
- If you suddenly notice your grass or shrubs have changed color, looking more brown or rusty, that could be a sign of a leak: the gas pouring out of the pipes. If you see any of these things, make sure to call 911 immediately and then call the gas company.
- If you have turned the gas off in your home, do not try to turn it back on yourself; call the gas company to do that for you.
This story was originally published on March 9 at 7:45 a.m.