KANSAS CITY, Mo. (TheBlaze/AP) — A gas line explosion near a Kansas City restaurant Tuesday evening has left 14 injured. The search continues for one female employee who is still missing.
Kansas City Fire Chief Paul Berardi said early Wednesday that a man who was reported missing was found at St. Luke’s Hospital receiving treatment, but there has been no sign of the woman who worked at JJ’s restaurant on the Country Club Plaza.
Searchers used cadaver dogs to search the rubble overnight and are waiting for heavy equipment to remove heavy piece so they can continue to search.
Watch this report showing footage of the search with dogs and the smoldering building:
The explosion occurred around 6 p.m. in Kansas City’s upscale Country Club Plaza shopping and dining district. The flames raged until 8 p.m. when crews were able to shut the gas line off.
Missouri Gas Energy said in a statement that “early indications are that a contractor doing underground work struck a natural gas line.”
Berardi, however, cautioned that the cause was not yet known. “This investigation needs to be concluded before we want to speculate on any of that,” he said.
Of the 14 people known to have been injured, three are in critical or serious condition.
Berardi said late Tuesday the search for people with trained dogs was standard given the size of the conflagration and the fact that there was no immediate, reliable count of people who were inside the intimate, one-story restaurant at the time.
“I would always fear there are fatalities in a scene like this,” Berardi said.
The University of Kansas Hospital was treating six people injured in the blast, said spokesman Bob Hallinan. He said one person was in critical condition, two were in serious condition and two others were expected to be released. He said all of those injuries were traumatic, such as broken bones, rather than burns or smoke inhalation. The final patient there was a burn victim who was transferred from Truman Medical Center, Hallinan said.
Dr. Marc Larsen, medical director of the emergency room at St. Luke’s Hospital, said they had treated eight people, six of whom were walk-ins with minor injuries. He said two males were in critical condition and would be kept overnight. He said one had extensive burns and the other had facial trauma.
Dr. John Verstraete, who works at Plaza Physicians Group next door to JJ’s, told The Kansas City Star that several employees of the office smelled gas for several hours Tuesday afternoon. The smell grew stronger through the day, and a gas company employee entered the medical office just before 6 p.m. recommending that it be evacuated, he said.
Watch Verstraete’s account where he said the sound of the explosion “hits you like a shock wave” and hear other witness reports:
The blast shattered windows in some businesses at a small strip mall nearby, and residents of some neighboring apartments reported minor interior damage. One side of a brick apartment building that shares the block with JJ’s appeared to have been scorched.
Here’s an earlier report from Tuesday night that shows footage of the raging flames:
Jim Ligon, a JJ’s bartender, said he wasn’t working Tuesday night but started getting texts and calls from co-workers minutes after the explosion. He said the incident happened during the peak of weekday happy hour, when there is typically anywhere from 15 to 45 people in the bar area as well as three to five tables of diners at the restaurant.
“JJ’s has a small staff, a family feel,” said Ligon, 45, of Kansas City, Mo. “You see the same 100 people all the time – a bar and restaurant for regulars. We’re just really hoping we come out of here OK in terms of injuries.”
The restaurant consistently received high ratings from contributors to Zagat’s restaurant guides, both for its food and its wine list of hundreds of selections.
The shopping area was established in 1922 by J.C. Nichols. Based on the architecture of Seville, Spain, it includes retail, restaurants, apartments and offices.
Associated Press reporters Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City and Jeff McMurray in Chicago contributed to this report.