A natural gas explosion at a Kansas City, MO. restaurant has left at least fourteen people dead and one employee still missing.
The explosion and fire at the popular JJs Restaurant, located two blocks from the Country Club Plaza, occurred around 6:00 p.m. Tuesday evening. The force of the explosion shattered windows a half-block away and many said they could feel the blast impact up to a mile away.
John Verstraete, whose office is in the nearby Country Club Plaza, said at around 1:00 p.m. he and others in the building reported a strong smell of gas to construction workers who were working outside the building. He told KCTV:
"We were really upset. They seemed to laugh it off. We were like, 'Hey, we smell gas.' . . . They were just, 'Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.'"
Verstraete said work crews finally tested the air around the building at about 5:00 p.m. and determined that the amount of natural gas in the air was at a dangerous level and ordered the building evacuated.
James Garrett, a fire department spokesman confirmed that there had been a report of a gas leak in the area earlier in the day. According to a CNN report, the fire chief also confirmed his department received a report of the leak approximately 50 minutes prior to the explosion, but decided to allow the gas company to investigate and handle the situation.
Missouri Gas issued a statement following the explosion which said:
"Early this evening, a natural gas explosion occurred near the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri. Early indications are that a contractor doing underground work struck a natural gas line, but the investigation continues.
Emergency responders along with Missouri Gas Energy personnel are on site. The area has been secured and the flow of gas has been stopped. We do know that there have been injuries; however, at this time we do not have any details to provide."
Jennifer Carter, a patron who was in the restaurant before the explosion told KMBC restaurant employees had already shut off appliances after smelling gas. A man walked into JJs a short time later and told patrons and employees to evacuate the building. Carter left, but others were still in the restaurant when it exploded a few moments later.
Sharon Fisher, who was in the House of Elan Med Spa located next door to JJ’s, told The Kansas City Star:
“I put my hands over my head, dropped to the floor, looked up and saw glass flying in pieces from the ceiling. The walls started buckling. I could see daylight when it stopped. We ran out of there as fast as we could.”
According to KMBC, fourteen people have been confirmed killed by the blast and one person, an employee of the restaurant, remains missing. Cadaver dogs have been called in to search for the missing victim.
It took more than 100 firefighters about two hours to bring the blaze under control. Debris could be seen pile as high as 2-3 feet into the air. Officials with the fire department, police department and gas company remain on scene investigating the explosion and searching for possible additional victims.