Gas may have been leaking for weeks before blast

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 21, 2013

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A day after a natural gas explosion leveled a popular restaurant, investigators searched the rubble and tried to understand how the blast happened despite suspicions that flammable fuel had been leaking, maybe for weeks, somewhere in the busy outdoor shopping area.
Hours before the explosion, witnesses reported a strong smell of gas, and firefighters were summoned to the scene at one point but left without ordering an evacuation.
As the cleanup got under way Wednesday, search-and-rescue crews recovered a body, and the mayor worried that the debris could be concealing other victims.
Mayor Sly James declined to say whether the body was that of a man or a woman, though authorities had been looking for a missing woman who worked at JJ’s restaurant and had been seen there before the Tuesday evening blast. They previously said she was the only person still unaccounted for.
But James said at a news conference that authorities could not be “100 percent sure” they had accounted “for every single person that may have been at JJ’s when the explosion occurred.” The search started without a list of people who were in the building.
Crews using flashlights, cadaver dogs and heavy equipment rushed to finish the search ahead of a winter storm that was expected to bring heavy snow.
The explosion occurred after a construction crew apparently struck a natural gas line, touching off a blast that could be felt for nearly a mile.
Surveillance video from a nearby travel agency shows a fireball erupting from the restaurant’s roof, showering the street with debris and throwing up a cloud of dust and smoke. The blast shattered glass in neighboring buildings.
Fifteen people were injured. Six were still hospitalized Wednesday, James said.