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Huge blaze at Kansas City, Missouri, shopping district
From: BBC          Published On: February 20, 2013, 07:39 GMT
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Huge blaze at Kansas City, Missouri, shopping district

Keith King, reporter for KSHB, said the explosion was "a huge fireball"

At least 14 people have been injured after a suspected gas explosion triggered a huge blaze in a shopping district in Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas City official Troy Schulte said the authorities did not know if anyone was killed in the fire, which destroyed a restaurant and other businesses.

Local TV showed flames shooting out of the Country Club Plaza retail area.

Mr Schulte said officials believed the explosion may have stemmed from an utility contractor accident.

A doctor with St Luke's Hospital told reporters two of the injured being treated there were in critical condition, one with "pretty severe burns".

Six others walked into the hospital with minor injuries.

The Kansas City Star reported a total of 15 patients across three area hospitals, including St Luke's Hospital.

A manager of the restaurant destroyed in the blaze, JJ's, told police three people were unaccounted for but it was unclear if they had left earlier.

Sniffer dogs were being used to search the smouldering wreckage for bodies, city officials said.

First images from the scene showed firefighters and other emergency teams battling a massive blaze that appeared to have engulfed an entire block.

Jill Chadwick, spokeswoman for the University of Kansas Hospital, said one patient had told her that the restaurant was being evacuated when the blast happened and the roof fell in.

"This patient told me there had been the smell of gas and that they had evacuated any patrons and that employees of the restaurant were in the process of shutting off gas valves and trying to get out of the restaurant when there was the explosion," she told the BBC.

"He said the last thing he remembered was the roof collapsing. I asked him how he got out and he said the front of the restaurant was blown away and he just walked through the rubble."

The initial blast was felt beyond the shopping area.

Matthew Noonan, who lives just under one mile away, told the BBC: "My wife and I were in the house playing with our daughter when something shook our windows. It sounded like a loud thunderclap, and we were pretty sure it was an explosion. Just after that we saw it come on the news.

"The severity of the explosion is quite shocking."

Peggy Zilm, who lives about seven blocks from the fire, told the Star: "I thought something had exploded in my house."

The shopping area, established in 1922, is based on the architecture of Seville, Spain, and includes retail, restaurants, apartments and offices.

There were signs saying that utility work was being done in area ahead of the blast, and one man told told the Star he saw Missouri Gas Energy workers inside JJs with gas detectors.

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