Cadaver dogs were searching through the smoldering rubble of a Kansas City restaurant after a gas explosion sparked a massive blaze in an upscale shopping district.
More than a dozen people were injured on Tuesday evening in the blast and resulting fire, which occurred just after 6 p.m. and completely destroyed JJ’s restaurant. But as of late yesterday there were no reports of fatalities.
Despite that, Kansas City Fire Chief Paul Berardi said that 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,” Mr. 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.
Earlier, City Manager Troy Schulte said it appeared an accident by a utility contractor had caused the blast, and a statement from the utility Missouri Gas Energy reiterated that possibility. But Mr. Berardi and others cautioned that the cause was still being investigated.
“This investigation is ongoing,” Mr. Berardi said. “We do have reports that there was an odour of gas earlier. But, again, this investigation needs to be concluded before we want to speculate on any of that.”
Indeed, the smell of gas was very strong in the area hours after the blast. Mr. Berardi said Missouri Gas Energy stopped the flow of gas about 8 pm, and utility workers could be seen working in the area after the blast.
Initially Kansas City police had said the blast had been caused by a car crashing into a gas main. Fire and city officials later said they were not aware of a crash being involved in the blast.
Other witnesses noted street signs in the area indicated utility work was being done in the area, and a worker at a restaurant destroyed in the fire said the facility was being renovated at that time.
Mayor Sly James was at the scene after the blast, praising the work of first responders.
“The first thing we need to be concerned about is the people who are injured,” Mr. James said.
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.
Later Tuesday evening, Jim Ligon, a JJ’s bartender, said they were still waiting to hear from one co-worker, whom he declined to name.