The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

February 20, 2013

Chief: 1 missing in Kansas City inferno; 14 hurt



KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Authorities were bringing in heavy equipment Wednesday to remove blackened rubble and aid their search for a missing employee of a popular Kansas City restaurant destroyed by a gas explosion and the ensuing inferno.

Seven people injured in the Wednesday evening explosion at JJ's restaurant remained hospitalized Wednesday, including two whose conditions were critical. At least seven others were treated and released.

One of two people first feared to be missing was later found receiving treatment at a hospital. But a woman who worked at JJ's and who was seen there before the blast was still missing, and Mayor Sly James stressed that finding her would remain the primary focus of Wednesday's efforts.

"Our main concern right now is the fact that we have a missing individual whose family is very much in anguish about that," James said Wednesday morning. "We need to resolve that problem. There is some hope in light of the fact that last night there were two people missing and we found one."

Fire Chief Paul Berardi declined to release any information about the missing woman except that she worked at JJ's.

The blast happened at around 6 p.m. Tuesday, when the dinner crowd would have been filing into JJ's and the many other restaurants in the upscale Country Club Plaza shopping and dining district.

Witnesses reported that there was a strong smell of gas in the area before the blast, and 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.

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