KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A car crashed into a gas main Tuesday evening in an upscale Kansas City shopping district, sparking a massive blaze that engulfed an entire block and caused multiple injuries, police said.
Seven or eight people were injured and taken to area hospitals, police Sgt. Tony Sanders said Tuesday, who added that there were no reports of fatalities. Sanders said the manager of JJ’s restaurant, which was destroyed in the blaze, was unable to account for three people, but it was unclear whether they were caught in the blaze or had left earlier.
Earlier police spokeswoman Rhonda Flores said it appeared that a car crashed into a gas main near JJ’s just after 6 p.m. Flores said an initial call for three ambulances had been increased to 10. She said she had not heard of any reported fatalities. Flores said the car crash appeared to have been accidental.
The University of Kansas Hospital is treating five people injured in the blast, said spokesman Bob Hallinan. He said one person was in critical condition, two were in serious condition and two others were expected to be released. He said all the injuries were traumatic, such as broken bones, rather than burns.
Kerry O’Connor, a spokeswoman for St. Luke’s Hospital, which is near the scene of the fire, said several patients were on the way to the hospital. She said they haven’t been assessed yet but “they appear to be critical at this time.”
Fire officials didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday evening.
The smell of gas was very strong near the area long after the suspected explosion.
There were signs that utility work was being done in area. A phone message left Tuesday seeking comment from Missouri Gas Energy was not immediately returned.
Jim Ligon, a bartender who has worked at JJ’s restaurant for five years, wasn’t working Tuesday night but said he started getting texts and calls from co-workers minutes after the explosion.
He said the incident happened during the peak of weekday happy hour, when there is typically anywhere from 15 to 45 people in the bar area as well as three to five tables of diners at the restaurant.
“JJ’s has a small staff, a family feel,” said Ligon, 45, of Kansas City, Mo. “You see the same 100 people all the time — a bar and restaurant for regulars. We’re just really hoping we come out of here OK in terms of injuries.”
Ligon said he was on his way Tuesday night to meet up with co-workers at another bar in town to talk about the incident.
Video showed dozens of firefighters and other emergency responders battling a massive blaze that appeared to have engulfed an entire block, with flames burning through the roofs. Black smoke swirled in the air and debris littered surrounding streets.
The shopping area was established in 1922 by J.C. Nichols. Based on the architecture of Seville, Spain, it includes retail, restaurants, apartments and offices.
Associated Press reporters Heather Hollingsworth reported from Kansas City, and Jeff McMurray reported from Chicago.