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Gas leak sets off blast that costs family a home

A gas leak set off an explosion Saturday that leveled a couple's home...

A gas leak set off an explosion Saturday that leveled a couple's home of 35 years and rattled houses throughout the Mountain View section.

The family was not inside the home at the time, but four people -- including two Public Service Electric and Gas workers -- suffered minor cuts and bruises from flying debris at the Lewis Street home, police said.

Several neighbors were evacuated, and gas and electric service was shut off in the neighborhood as a precaution while firefighters hosed down the smoldering rubble and emergency crews cleaned up the scene. Service was restored by afternoon.

Police received a call at 8:56 a.m. reporting a gas leak at the home of Mel and Caroline Cole and their son, Kenneth.

The house apparently had filled with gas while Kenneth was changing a stove, police said. When he smelled the gas and heard it hissing through the pipes, he sent his parents outside and called the police.

A half hour later, as a PSE&G crew worked to shut off the gas, the house ignited, sending broken windows flying across the street, said Patrolman Dennis Paylo.

"It knocked me about three feet and some debris hit me," Paylo said. "The roof went up and the walls went out. I've never seen anything like it before."

Only the garage remained standing; the rest of the 1 1/2-story home lay in a pile of smoldering rubble. The sight was a shock to the Coles' daughter, Cindy Wright of Stockholm.

"I thought I was going to come here and just see a home full of smoke," she said. Although she was concerned about personal items, such as a collection of old family photos, Wright said her parents also lost their medication.

Mel Cole, a 76-year-old World War II veteran who has suffered from strokes, and 72-year-old Caroline Cole, who has battled cancer, left the house without taking their morning medication, she said.

When Wright attempted to replace the pills, the pharmacy initially told her she would need prescriptions. She was able to get a replacement by 11 a.m., however.

Some residents wondered why police did not evacuate the area earlier.

"The police and firetrucks were here a half hour before. After it blows, then they tell us to evacuate," said Peter Schmitz, who lives across the street and was having coffee when the explosion shook his home.

While township police and firefighters were busy with the explosion, a Little Falls firetruck collided with a 1999 Chevy Malibu in Wayne. The firetruck, covering Wayne under a mutual-aid agreement, was responding to an alarm at Willowbrook Mall about 10 a.m., said Little Falls police dispatcher David Liscil.

The driver of the car, whose name was not disclosed, was extricated from the vehicle and transported to St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Paterson, where he and a passenger were treated for minor injuries, Liscil said.

A firefighter was treated at the scene, said fire officials.

The firetruck had slowed to go through a red light while the driver of the car was going through a green light when the accident occurred, Wayne police said.

Liscil said it was a false alarm at Willowbrook.