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Subcontractor in deadly Kansas City blast lacked permit

Monday, February 25, 2013 | 4:19 p.m. CST; updated 4:45 p.m. CST, Monday, February 25, 2013

KANSAS CITY — A cable company subcontractor suspected of rupturing a natural gas line before a deadly Kansas City restaurant explosion didn't have an approved permit for the work, city officials said Monday.

Pat Klein, assistant city manager, provided no other details in a single-sentence email.

A Missouri Gas Energy official said previously that Heartland Midwest reported hitting a natural gas line with an underground borer more than an hour before Tuesday night's explosion. The blast and ensuing fire leveled JJ's restaurant near a busy outdoor shopping area called the Country Club Plaza. One person was killed and 15 others were injured.

Four of the injured people remained hospitalized Monday at the University of Kansas Hospital — one in critical condition, two in fair condition and one in good condition.

Brad Russell, a lawyer for Heartland Midwest, didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment Monday. The company released a statement last week expressing sympathy for the victims and saying the company is cooperating with authorities. "We are reserving any public comment until the completion of a thorough investigation," the statement concluded.

Hours before the explosion, witnesses reported a strong smell of gas. But no one alerted the fire department or utility officials to the possibility of a leak until the subcontractor called 911 shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday to report having ruptured the gas pipe, Kansas City Mayor Sly James said.

Within 20 minutes, a worker for Missouri Gas Energy arrived at the scene, followed later by a backhoe to dig a hole that would allow the gas to vent into the air, MGE Chief Operating Officer Rob Hack said.

Those who remained in the restaurant were urged to leave, Hack said. Then about 6 p.m., something inside the restaurant ignited the fuel, authorities said.

Surveillance video from a nearby travel agency shows a fireball erupting from the restaurant's roof, showering the street with debris and throwing up a cloud of dust and smoke. The blast could be felt for a mile and shattered glass in neighboring buildings.

The Missouri Public Service Commission, which oversees utilities, said preliminary information indicates that gas pipelines had been properly marked. The commission and fire officials continue to investigate.

 


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