A pre-dawn explosion shattered a two-story Birmingham apartment building today as residents slept, trapping an engaged couple in bed as bricks and concrete rained down on them.
After more than four hours of delicate work, firefighters freed the man, using large jacks to lift a concrete slab that had collapsed. But his fiancee was burned badly and died before rescuers could reach her, officials said.
The man was hospitalized in critical but stable condition with numerous injuries. Neither his name nor his fiancee's were immediately released.
Five children and two adults also were hurt, officials said, but none of the injuries was life-threatening. Survivors crawled through fire and debris to get to the street to safety.
Fire officials said they suspected natural gas was behind the blast, but the cause was still under investigation.
Firefighters were called about 3:45 a.m. today after a fireball erupted at Gate City Apartments, a few miles from downtown Birmingham.
The blast leveled about half the building, which burned before crews could get close enough to begin rescue work.
Battalion Chief C.W. Mardis of the Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service said the couple, in a first-floor apartment, apparently was asleep in bed at the time of the explosion, which blew out the exterior walls and caused the building collapse.
"The actual concrete slab from the second floor was on them," said Mardis.