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Person believed to be missing employee found dead after Elizabeth waste management fire

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Person believed to be missing employee found dead after Elizabeth fire 02:08

ELIZABETH, N.J. -- A five-alarm fire at a New Jersey waste management facility left one person dead. 

Chopper 2 was over the scene Tuesday afternoon in Elizabeth, as thick black smoke billowed for miles. 

More than 10 hours later, the flames were put out, with the exception of some hot spots. 

While crews worked on getting them under control, they tragically came across the body of who they believe was a missing employee. 

"My office is just shaken," Arnold Alvarez, who knows the victim, told CBS2's Elijah Westbrook. "My wife's blood pressure just went sky high."

Alvarez and his wife work at a warehouse across the street from the waste treatment center. They watched from afar as crews dug through the rubble Wednesday morning, hoping for the best. 

He and his wife said they knew the worker who sadly lost their life.

"He was an old man, very nice gentleman. He's missing since yesterday. I tried to go in to look for him yesterday myself, but it was so hot, that I couldn't," Alvarez said.

Westbrook was told everyone else managed to escape the building without injury. 

The investigation continues into what caused all of this, although early reports show machinery inside the building may have caught fire. 

 

Person believed to be missing employee found dead

1 person found dead after Elizabeth waste management fire 01:31

CBS2's Elijah Westbrook has learned the fire claimed the life of a person who first responders believe was a missing employee.

It took firefighters more than 10 hours to get the massive fire under control. 

Neighbors said they were stunned at how intense the fire was. One family said they didn't feel comfortable staying in their home because of how close they were to the fire, and felt like they had no choice but to stay at a hotel.

"I was sleeping, then all the smoke came out, and we started just out of the house running like crazy," witness Jorge Rodriguez told CBS2. 

"It's crazy, man, that it's so close. You never know, it could have been worse," another person added. 

Investigators have not released the name of the person who died. They say everyone else managed to escape the building without injury.

By Elijah Westbrook
 

Fire officially put out

Elizabeth waste management fire officially put out 02:23

As CBS2's Elijah Westbrook reports, the fire is now under control, but crews are still on the scene putting out hotspots. 

Authorities say an employee remains unaccounted for as the investigation continues.

By Elijah Westbrook
 

1 person still unaccounted for over 9 hours after fire began

Firefighters battle blaze at N.J. waste facility for hours 02:27

One person remained unaccounted for over nine hours the fire began burning.

The Elizabeth Fire Department said around 10:30 p.m. that they predict the fire will last throughout the night, but it was currently under control.

Thick black smoke billowed into the sky, spreading to nearby homes and Newark Airport as planes were in the air.

Crews were still on the scene around 11 p.m. Tuesday.

As CBS2's Dick Brennan reports, some nine hours after it started, firefighters continued to pour water on the flames that tore through the waste management commercial building in Elizabeth.

Witnesses say the fireball seemed to come out of nowhere and suddenly was engulfing the structure.

"It was crazy. It was like pops, a lot of pops, there was a big trailer on fire," witness Crystal Gonzalez said.

Firefighters told CBS2 the flames and thick black smoke were so intense that they would often have to back off, even if they were wearing an oxygen mask.

People who work across the street could feel the smoke in their eyes and throat.

"Burning, burning. It's like they put pepper spray in your eyes," witness Victor Santos said.

Homeowners had the flames in their backyard and the smoke in their living rooms.

Oge Okomkwo met the flames up close.

"I work from home, so it was a little terrifying because I was on my work station and at first it sounded like a strong wind, and then my dog is obviously antsy, so look through the window, and it's like, flames and fumes," she said.

One family decided it was best to pack up and get out after earlier having to run for their lives.

"I was sleeping, then all the smoke come up, and we started just out of the house, running like crazy," witness Jorge Rodrigeuz said.

They will spend at least one night in a hotel.

"How's the house look?" Brennan asked Carolyn Perez.

"It just smells like smoke," she said.

Soot made its way through the air, landing on cars and people.

The fire billowed just a few miles from Newark Liberty International Airport, and it seems planes were almost touching the smoke, but the Port Authority said there were no delays and they didn't have to reroute any flights.

"When you're looking up at this, what goes through your head when you look at this?" Brennan asked one witness.

"It's crazy, man, that it's so close. And you never know, it could have been worse," he said.

Crews will not be able to enter the building for at least another day since it is partially collapsed.  

By Dick Brennan
 

Fire still going strong more than six hours later

1 person unaccounted for after fire at NJ waste management plant 01:56

The fire was still going strong more than six hours after it started.

As CBS2's Dick Brennan reports, smoke was still billowing from the five-alarm fire.

At the height of the intensity, firefighters say they had to back away from the thick, heavy smoke even when they had oxygen masks on.

The waste management building holds debris, including cardboard, which contributed to the fire's intensity.

One firefighter said the fire was so tough, it could go through the night "and then some," perhaps lasting days.

One person remains unaccounted for. There have been no injuries reported.

Residents in the area had to deal with heavy smoke, and some had to be evacuated for a few hours.

"I work from home, so it was a little terrifying because I was on my work station and at first it sounded like a strong wind, and then my dog is obviously antsy, so look through the window, and it's like, flames and fumes," Oge Okomkwo said.

Those affected have since been allowed back into their homes, but some chose not to return because of the smoke.

The smoke was also very close to planes that were landing at Newark Liberty International Airport just a few miles away, but the Port Authority says no planes had to be rerouted.

By Dick Brennan
 

Crews battling fire at waste management plant in Elizabeth

Crews battling fire at waste management plant in Elizabeth 01:06

Crews worked for hours Tuesday on a massive fire in Elizabeth, New Jersey. CBS2's Dan Rice reports from Chopper 2.

By CBS New York Team
 

Dick Brennan live on the scene

1 person unaccounted for after fire at NJ waste management plant 03:20

CBS2's Dick Brennan had this live report from the scene. 

By Dick Brennan
 

1 person unaccounted for in 5-alarm blaze

Officials say the fire broke out at a waste management commercial building on Julia Street in Elizabeth, N.J. around 2 p.m. 

It quickly grew to five alarms. 

One person remains unaccounted for. 

The cause of the fire wasn't immediately known. 

Surrounding homes have been evacuated. 

Officials expect the fire will be ongoing well into the night. 

Video from the scene shows plumes of smoke rising high into the sky. Newark Liberty International Airport is nearby, but airport operations have not been impacted. 

By CBS New York Team
 

Chopper 2 over the scene

Chopper 2 Flying

Chopper 2 is checking out stories around our area, including a fire in Elizabeth. See complete local coverage on CBS News New York: http://cbsloc.al/cbsnewsnewyork

Posted by CBS New York on Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Chopper 2 is over the scene of a large fire at a waste management facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey. 

By CBS New York Team
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