Witnesses Say Gas Leaked for Hours Before Kansas City Restaurant Explosion

Four People Critically Injured in Tuesday Evening Fire

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An explosion and subsequent fire destroyed a Kansas City, Mo., restaurant in a revitalized shopping district injuring at least 16 people Tuesday evening. Four of the injured are burned in critical condition, according to the Kansas City Star . Some employees of JJ's Restaurant had mere seconds to get out before two explosions rocked the place that would normally have been crowded, except the street outside the restaurant was blocked off as gas company officials looked for a cause of a massive leak blamed for the blaze.

* A gas leak was reported in nearby businesses on 48th Street around 1 p.m., according to the Star. Several employees of Plaza Physicians Group reported the gas smell to a construction crew working in the street, but the workers didn't seem to pay attention.

* Dr. John Verstraete was working at the doctor's office said some workers were smoking outside even as crews were trying to find the leak. In an interview with KCTV , Verstraete said the lackadaisical attitude made workers at the office "really upset."

* Around five hours later, a member of Missouri Gas Energy recommended employees at the doctor's office evacuate. The Star also reported utility employees blocked off 48th Street between 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Utility workers were inside the restaurant with gas detectors trying to locate the leak.

*The fire started around 6 p.m. local time near Country Club Plaza along 48th Street. One witness told KSHB she smelled gas shortly before the explosion. Another witness saw flames near a backhoe in the street in front of the restaurant, according to the media outlet.

* Jennifer Carter told KSHB she was having coffee with a manager when the smell permeated the restaurant. Employees had turned off the establishment's appliances trying to determine the cause of the smell.

* During a live interview with KSHB , a man said he witnessed flames coming out of a ditch directly between a backhoe and the restaurant. He then went to a neighboring apartment building to try to warn residents.

* Authorities told the television station they believe the fire started when a vehicle hit a gas line. The four-alarm fire started shortly after 6 p.m. and was contained by 8:25 p.m. thanks to around 100 firefighters at the scene.

* JJ's owner Jimmy Frantze drove to Kansas City from Oklahoma to ensure his employees were all right. One employee was missing immediately after the blaze. The Kansas City Star reveals one server at the restaurant, who worked there about a year, is still unaccounted for the morning after the fire. A hostess on duty told KCTV5 she "thought she was going to die" in the rubble.

* According to KSHB , cadaver dogs were on the scene by 9 p.m. The dogs remained until 1 a.m. and didn't find anything. Workers resumed searching for bodies at daybreak.

* The New York Times reports Missouri Gas Energy released a statement saying, "early indications are that a contractor doing underground work struck a natural gas line, but the investigation continues."

* JJ's Restaurant was a popular neighborhood restaurant open since 1985, according to the Kansas City Star . Frantze was named Restaurateur of the Year in 2007 by the Greater Kansas City Chapter of the Missouri Restaurant Association.

* JJ's was hoping to recover from a downturn in patrons over the past seven years. The establishment served American, Italian and French cuisine in addition to seafood.

William Browning, a lifelong Missouri resident, writes about local and state issues for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. Born in St. Louis, Browning earned his bachelor's degree in English from the University of Missouri. He currently resides in Branson.

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