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14 hurt in Kansas City gas blast, fire

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A popular restaurant in an entertainment district became engulfed in towering flames on Tuesday evening after a gas main exploded, rattling the earth, leaving shards of glass and brick strewn about and injuring 14 people, some severely, officials said.

There were no initial reports of deaths, said Rhonda Flores, a spokeswoman for the Police Department. Late Tuesday, firefighters were searching through the rubble with dogs for any signs of people trapped inside the restaurant, named JJ's.

Missouri Gas Energy, the gas company for the area, said in a statement that "early indications are that a contractor doing underground work struck a natural gas line, but the investigation continues." The company has shut off gas to the area, the statement said.

Many people in surrounding buildings had complained of a strong smell of gas during the day. Because of the odor, JJ's was not operating its kitchen at the time of the blast, KSHB-TV reported. Soon after inspectors from the gas company told people at the restaurant to leave, the building exploded, the station reported. It was shortly after 6 p.m., Flores said.

Five victims were being treated Tuesday night at the University of Kansas Hospital, with one in critical condition and two in serious condition, said Bob Hallinan, a hospital spokesman. They were injured by debris, not burned, Hallinan said. The hospital expected to receive a burn victim from another hospital, he said.

A physician at St. Luke's Hospital said at a news conference that it had two victims in critical condition, one with severe burns and one with severe cuts, and six others who had walked in for treatment.

The fire burned for more than an hour. The smoke could be seen high in the air for miles.

14 hurt in Kansas City gas blast, fire 02/19/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 12:30am]
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