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Updated: Gas Explosion Ignites Block of Commercial Buildings in Kansas City

Damaged Gas Main Ignites

Update, 6 am Central Wednesday:  Injury report revised to approx. 16 with 3 critical.  Two people still missing.  Scroll down for recent additions to this report.  Also more videos added.

Update #2, 10:30 am Central:  One person remains missing, believed in rubble.  Heavy snow storm moving in.  Scroll down.

Update #3, 1:30 pm Central:  Final missing victim found.  Mayor James announced this afternoon that a body was retrieved from the rubble in the bar area of the southwest corner of the building.  He was not able to disclose the sex of the victim, but it is known that the only person believed to be missing was a female server who worked in the restaurant.  Mayor James made the announcement along with an update on the injury report in this video:

 KCTV5

Additional info. and videos posted on STATter911 HERE

A LARGE, 4-ALARM FIRE IN A KANSAS CITY, Missouri, upscale neighborhood Tuesday evening completely destroyed a large restaurant and heavily damaged several other buildings.

The fire began around 6 pm Central following the ka-boom just outside JJ's Restaurant in the Country Club Plaza area of downtown Kansas City.  People in and around the restaurant smelled gas and the management immediately evacuated the restaurant, probably saving several lives by doing so.  As the patrons were being escorted out, the employees were rapidly shutting down all appliances in the kitchen when it went off.

At the time of this posting, at least 20 known injuries had been taken to hospitals, both by ambulance and self-transportation.  Two people are reported in critical condition.

The fire spread to exposures causing more damage, but they appear to be mostly concrete structures limiting the penetration.

KCTV has some good aerial footage of the fire at its peak:

 KCTV5

Viewing the live-stream coverage, it was seen that the FD had the fire knocked down by 9 pm.  The restaurant itself is completely consumed.

(above, KCTV)

Google Street View of the Restaurant

Cadaver dogs are on the scene to check the entire restaurant rubble after the debris cools enough to permit them to enter.

KCTV has a 20-image photo gallery HERE.
KSHB-TV has additional videos photos with links to more articles HERE.

Update, 6 am Central Wednesday:
Fire-Rescue are still searching for two people, believed to be restaurant employees, that are still unaccounted for.  A message went out that one of them was in a hospital, but they have not been able to verify that.  All casualty numbers are still approximate and liable to be adjusted.

The area had already been restricted due to construction work in the street earlier Tuesday.  Many witnesses are telling the press that they had called the gas company an hour or more before the blast to report a strong smell of gas in the area.  KCTV is reporting this morning:

Missouri Gas & Energy owns and operates the natural gas distribution line servicing the area. The utility company had a crew in the area working after receiving reports of a strong smell of gas about an hour before the explosion. About 30 minutes before the explosion, gas crews asked those in a nearby building to evacuate. The status of the MGE employees and contractors was unclear Tuesday night.

The owner of the restaurant, Jimmy Frantze, told KCTV5's Stacey Cameron that he was en route from Oklahoma. His brother at the scene told him that a crew was digging for fiber optics to a new hotel on the Plaza when they struck a gas line.

Frantze said JJ's "literally exploded." He said four of his employees were critically injured and one employee had been unaccounted for. A wall in the kitchen collapsed, injuring several seriously. The gas crews had blocked off areas, meaning fewer people were enjoying happy hour at JJ's than normal.

KCTV5's Dave Eckert was about a block from the restaurant about 30 minutes before the explosion. He described a strong smell of gas.

Fire Chief Berardi and Mayor James provided an update at a news conference:

 KCTV5

KSHB-TV  has provided this update video report:

 

KSHB-TV also has a 44-image photo gallery posted HERE.

KSHB-TV

KSHB-TV

Update #2, 10:30 am Central: 
Fire Chief Berardi stated this morning that there is just one person missing in the explosion zone, a female employee of the restaurant.  A second person thought to have been missing has been located in one of the hospitals being treated for injuries.  CBS News has added:

(A major snow storm that is) due to reach Kansas City by Wednesday night could dump as much as 10 inches of snow on the city, adding even greater urgency to the effort to find a female employee who was last seen before the Tuesday evening blast and inferno that turned JJ's restaurant into blackened ruins.

Crews using heavy equipment moved delicately to lift away the heavy debris left by the blast. One of two people first feared to be missing was later found receiving treatment at a hospital, and Mayor Sly James stressed that finding the missing restaurant worker would remain the primary focus of Wednesday's efforts.

"We have a major storm coming in this evening," James said. "We're going to work diligently to get in (to the blast site) to get underneath that weather." Fire Chief Paul Berardi declined to release any information about the missing woman except that she worked at JJ's.

Just hours before the blast, many in the area had been complaining of a strong smell of gas, reporter Dave Hall of CBS Kansas City affiliate KCTV-TV reported on "CBS This Morning" Wednesday.

"We finally called the gas company," Dr. John Verstraete, who works at Plaza Physicians Group next door to JJ's, told CBS. "They came out. They checked inside our building, said that we needed to evacuate. It wasn't two minutes when we were grabbing our stuff and the explosion hit, and it hit you like a shockwave."

Missouri Gas Energy, which supplies the area, said in a statement that "early indications are that a contractor doing underground work struck a natural gas line."

Cadaver dogs searched the rubble Tuesday night but did not find anything, so heavy equipment was brought in at dawn to remove several feet of heavy debris, James said.

Berardi said firefighters were called about 5:15 p.m. Tuesday with a report that a construction worker had hit a gas line near the restaurant. Firefighters conferred with MGE workers and left the scene, and the explosion occurred about 45 minutes later. He said the cause of the gas leak and fire is still unknown.

"Once we confirm the victim is or isn't inside the building, that part of the investigation will continue," Berardi said.

Read the full CBS News update HERE.

CBS also posted this video:

 

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Updates will be added periodically during the day.  Keep checking back for new information as it is released.

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