KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - Firefighters recovered the body of a young woman on Wednesday from the rubble of a popular Kansas City restaurant destroyed by a natural gas blast and fire that injured another 15 people, authorities said.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James said firefighters were still looking for other potential victims of the Tuesday night explosion and fire that flattened JJ’s restaurant in the upscale Country Club Plaza shopping district.
“We can’t be 100 percent sure we can account for every single person who might have been at JJ’s last night,” James said at a news conference, flanked by Kansas City Fire Chief Paul Berardi.
James said firefighters had recovered the body of a young woman. Berardi said the body had been found in the bar area but declined to give an age or sex.
Fifteen people were treated at hospitals and nine had been released. Three people were in critical condition, Berardi said.
The eatery was engulfed by flames around 6 p.m. CST on Tuesday after an explosion that was felt for hundreds of yards (meters) and blew out some windows of adjacent buildings.
Several patrons and employees were inside the restaurant and wine bar at the time of the blast. The explosion triggered a fire that took 50 minutes to control.
Missouri Gas Energy in the hour before the blast responded to reports of a strong gas smell in the restaurant area, city officials said.
Firefighters deferred to gas company personnel in deciding whether people should be evacuated from the restaurant and surrounding businesses, and they were not, James said.
“The utility company is the best one to determine all of the issues,” James said.
“And, no, it is not necessarily best practice to evacuate entire city blocks of people because there is strong odor of gas because a lot of times you can do more harm than good. People can get panicky when you start doing things like that.”
Missouri Gas Energy said in a statement on Tuesday that first indications showed that a contractor doing work in the area had struck a natural gas line. The company provided no new details on Wednesday.
“We are not able to go any further until the hunt for any possible victims is concluded,” Missouri Gas Energy spokesman Jason Fulp said in an emailed response to a question.
Editing by Maureen Bavdek, Leslie Adler and Andrew Hay