NJ.com – by Seth Augenstein/The Star-Ledger
NEWARK — A gasoline tanker exploded on McCarter Highway early this morning and burned through thousands of gallons of gasoline, shutting the highway and interrupting statewide train service through Newark Penn Station, authorities said.
The tanker and a passenger car collided on the highway in the area of Murray Street around 1:30 a.m., said Sgt. Ronald Glover, a police spokesman.
The 8,500 gallons of gasoline caught fire, and began to burn through overhead power lines near the railroad tracks parallel to the highway, added Capt. John Brown of the Newark Fire Department.
Though the fire was extinguished within an hour and there were no major injuries, most of the gasoline burned, Brown said.
“Most of it burned off,” Brown said at 6 a.m.
Some of the gasoline ran off into storm drains – and the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission and the state Department of Environmental Protection are on the scene for clean up, Brown added.
McCarter Highway was completely closed in both directions as of 6:30 a.m., and the northbound direction is expected to be closed for most of the morning, Brown said. Some of the southbound lanes are expected to open up in time for the morning commute, he added.
The Amtrak Northeast Corridor line was in close proximity to the heat of the flames, and has resulted in problems throughout the region, said John Durso, a spokesman for NJ Transit.
All trains running through the area were canceled until 4:30 a.m. – and now there are NJ Transit delays: one hour along the Raritan Valley line, 30 minutes along the Northeast Corridor and North Jersey Coast lines. All westbound trains along the Northeast Corridor and North Jersey Coast Line between Newark Airport and Rahway have resumed service.
Police are still looking for the driver of the car involved in the crash, who fled the scene on foot early this morning, Glover said.
A heavy gasoline smell still hung in the area as of 7 a.m., as workers and heavy machinery were cleaning the entire stretch of Route 21 between Murray and Emmet streets.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.