Missouri Gas Energy has since released a statement suggesting a local contractor who struck a natural gas line was to blame. (Photo : Reuters)
At least 16 people were hurt in a fire apparently caused by a natural gas explosion at a popular Kansas City bar Tuesday night, with three people critically injured and one missing, according to Reuters.
While no fatalities have been reported, authorities continued to search the charred remains of JJ's restaurant with cadaver dogs Wednesday in an attempt to locate one woman who is still unaccounted for.
"At this time we are still searching for one victim and that is a female employee of the restaurant," announced Kansas City Fire Chief Paul Berardi at a press conference before sunrise Wednesday morning.
Authorities don't currently suspect foul play in the fire. "It does seem to be an accident," Berardi said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Missouri Gas Energy has since released a statement suggesting a local contractor who struck a natural gas line was to blame, saying, "early indications are that a contractor doing underground work struck a natural gas line, but the investigation continues."
Residents reported smelling a potent gas odor prior to the explosion, causing the upscale wine bar to evacuate customers shortly before the blast around 6 p.m., according to NPR. However, not everyone was able to evacuate the building fast enough. Several patrons and employees were still inside the bar when the structure burst into flames, causing a four-alarm fire that took almost an hour to contain, Fire Chief Berardi said.
The fire was so strong it "was growing exponentially, incredibly quickly. It was not like a fire I've seen before, where it takes a long time to spread," said Sally McVey, a neighbor to the bar, according to the Times.
The impact of the explosion was so powerful area residents reported hearing and seeing the blaze even from miles away. "The force knocked out windows at least a half-block away and was felt nearly a mile away. Flames soared two-thirds higher than the building into the evening sky. Bricks and broken glass were strewn around," NPR reported.
"The restaurant building is for practical purposes destroyed - the roof caved in," NPR added.
After dogs finish searching for the missing woman, Kansas City Police Department's bomb squad, as well as officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives will look into the cause of the fire, said Fire Chief Berardi.