February 20, 2013 in Nation/World

Dozen hurt in blast, fire in Kansas City

Explosion sparks huge blaze In famed plaza shop district
Maria Sudekum Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Firefighters work at the scene of a gas explosion and fire Tuesday night at JJ’s restaurant at the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo.
(Full-size photo)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Cadaver dogs were searching through the smoldering rubble of a Kansas City restaurant after a gas explosion sparked a massive blaze Tuesday evening in an upscale shopping district.

More than a dozen people were injured in the blast and resulting fire, which occurred just after 6 p.m. and destroyed JJ’s restaurant. But as of late Tuesday there were no reports of fatalities.

Despite that, Kansas City Fire Chief Paul Berardi said cadaver dogs were called to the scene as a precaution because of the size of the conflagration.

“I would always fear there are fatalities in a scene like this,” Berardi said.

He said results of the search would take hours and that he expected his crews would be working the scene through the night.

City Manager Troy Schulte said it appeared an accident by a utility contractor had caused the blast, and a statement from utility Missouri Gas Energy late Tuesday reiterated that possibility, but Berardi and others cautioned that the cause was still being investigated.

“This investigation is ongoing,” Berardi said. “We do have reports that there was an odor of gas earlier. But, again, this investigation needs to be concluded before we want to speculate on any of that.”

Berardi said the gas utility, Missouri Gas Energy, stopped the flow of gas about 8 p.m., and utility workers could be seen working in the area after the blast.

Witnesses noted street signs in the area indicated utility work was being done, and a JJ’s employee said the facility was being renovated at the time.

Police Sgt. Tony Sanders said the manager of JJ’s restaurant was unable to account for three people, but it was unclear whether they were caught in the blaze or had left earlier.

The shopping area, known as the Country Club Plaza, was established in 1922 by J.C. Nichols. Based on the architecture of Seville, Spain, it includes retail, restaurants, apartments and offices.

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