Wednesday, February 20, 2013
At least 14 hurt in gas explosion, fire in Kansas City, Missouri
By Kevin Murphy
KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - A fire triggered by a natural gas explosion that appeared to originate underground engulfed a restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri, on Tuesday, injuring more than a dozen people, authorities and witnesses said.
The gas explosion shook the Country Club Plaza, an upscale shopping area about 30 blocks south of downtown Kansas City, around dinner time, just after 6 p.m. CST (0000 GMT), Kansas City Fire Department spokesman James Garrett told CNN.
Mayor Sly James and Fire Chief Paul Berardi said 14 people were injured. Of those, nine were taken to area hospitals, including two with life-threatening injuries. No one was known to have been killed, the mayor said.
"I am just keeping my fingers crossed that this turns out to be what it looks like on first blush - that this is a relatively low number of injuries compared to what it could be," he told reporters.
"Hopefully, no fatalities will come out of it, but we don't know that at this point," he added.
The precise cause of the explosion was not immediately known, officials said. However, an office building was under construction across the street from the fire scene.
One witness, Bryce McElroy, who lives about two blocks away, said he heard a loud boom and headed toward the noise, arriving on the scene to see flames leaping from a manhole cover and advancing on the restaurant, a popular steakhouse and fine dining venue called JJ's.
Jeff Hansen, who lives about four blocks away, said he went to the scene to offer assistance after hearing the blast and saw six to eight people visibly injured who were leaving the area.
"Obviously there were multiple injuries," he said. "The question is if there is anybody still in there."
Firefighters swarmed into the area to battle flames consuming the restaurant as police officers ordered bystanders to move two blocks back from the fire as a precaution. The smell of gas fumes permeated the air around the scene.
The University of Kansas Hospital received six patients from the blast and fire, two of whom drove themselves from the scene and were treated and released, hospital spokesman Bob Hallinan told Reuters.
Of the four patients transported to the hospital, one was listed in critical condition and two in serious condition, he said. The fourth was being transferred from another hospital.
Local television station KCTV-5 reported at least three people were listed in critical condition at nearby St. Luke's Medical Center, suffering from burns and lacerations. Two more people were listed in good condition at Research Medical Center, spokeswoman Denise Charpentier said.
Two JJ's employees who were away from the restaurant at the time of the blast said they were told later by fellow workers who were present that staff members were alerted to the smell of gas shortly before the blast and had begun to evacuate the building.
One of those workers who relayed that account, Talley Saey, said she was told that several employees were among those taken to the hospital.
(Additional reporting by David Bailey; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Eric Beech and Lisa Shumaker)