Shielded by her mother's body, a teenage girl survived a devastating home collapse in central New Jersey on Monday morning. Her sister also made it out alive by crawling through a mess of splintered wood and other debris.
Neighbor James Feig said he arrived around 7 a.m., just minutes after the collapse, to find a woman chest deep in bricks and debris where a three-story home once stood along South Broad Street near Joseph Street in Hamilton Township, Mercer County.
That 20-year-old woman was on her cellphone with dispatchers moments after the collapse, Feig said. He comforted her until crews were able to free her from the rubble.
"I could see that she was physically OK, but she was very much upset," Feig said.
The woman, who had suffered scrapes and bruises, said her family members were trapped in the rubble, Hamilton police said.
Firefighters, rescue teams and search dogs found 38-year-old Tika Justice dead on top of her 16-year-old daughter, who survived, on the second floor, Hamilton Police Chief James Stevens said.
Both the daughters were listed in serious, but stable condition at the hospital. The 20-year-old said she heard a cracking noise and was running out of the home when it collapsed, police said.
State police, local police, firefighters and utilities responded to the scene. PSE&G turned off gas to the area as part of standard routine after a collapse. So far the incident doesn’t appear gas-related, officials said.
Neighbors in the area told NBC10's Pamela Osborne that they didn't feel or hear an explosion.
Broad Street was closed between Lily Street and New Cedar Lane as crews responded to the scene.
Justice likely died while saving her daughter's life by shielding her from the debris, according to investigators.
"She's that type of person," Justice's brother Brushaun Davis said. "She'll save her kid before she saves herself."
Family members say Justice's daughters also lost their father years ago.
"They don't have nobody but us," Davis said. "But of course we're going to do what we've got to do."
The 16-year-old girl suffered the worst injuries. Her sister plans to remain by her bedside in the hospital until she's okay to come home.
Officials continue to investigate the cause of the collapse.