Explosion, fire at Kansas City restaurant injures at least 15

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City police said there are no known deaths from a restaurant explosion and fire Tuesday evening.

But sources tell The Kansas City Star that one employee of JJ’s restaurant remained unaccounted for.

At least 15 people were being treated at area hospitals, three in critical condition.

The fire that resulted from the explosion at JJ’s restaurant about 6 p.m. was upgraded to a four-alarm blaze. The fire was reported under control at 8:16 p.m.

Police were shrinking the perimeter around the explosion site to a two- or three-block radius.

A fire official said the explosion appeared to have been an accident.

There may have been two or even three explosions. A contractor working on a reported gas leak outside JJ’s said there was a small explosion outside the restaurant and some of the gas workers ran inside to order everybody out.

Then there was a larger explosion. The worker did not think everybody got out of the restaurant.

The University of Kansas Hospital was treating six patients, one of whom had burns. Another patient was in critical condition and two were serious with trauma. Two other patients were expected to be treated and released.

St. Luke’s Hospital received seven patients, at least two of them critical. The others were being evaluated.

Research Hospital received two patients by ambulance with smoke inhalation and both were in good condition.

A woman who lives in an apartment near JJ’s said she saw a lot of injured people being wheeled on stretchers, one man with a leg that appeared to be almost severed. She also saw people bleeding from the ears, perhaps from the explosion.

Another witness said he started smelling gas as early as 1 p.m. and reported it to a construction crew that was working at a project nearby. That person said a health spa next door to JJ’s, House of Elan, was also destroyed because a wall caved in.

JJ’s owner Jimmy Frantze was driving back to Kansas City from Oklahoma Tuesday night.

“It was 28 years of a great restaurant, and then it has to end like this,” Frantze said. “I want to make sure to check on my employees to make sure they are all right.”

Mark Ebbitts, who works at a nearby travel agency, stopped at JJ’s after work. He said the streets in the area were blocked off between 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. because of the smell and he saw Missouri Gas Energy workers inside JJ’s with gas detectors. Ebbitts said an alarm went off but the gas workers did not appear to panic.

“They did not have a sense of urgency about them,” Ebbitts said. “They didn’t say we had to go.”

Joe Whisler met friends at JJ’s after work Tuesday.

“I could smell gas from my car when I got to 48th and Belleview,” Whisler said. “It was overpowering.”

Whisler said he noticed a pipe in the ground in the entrance to the alley on the east side of JJ’s that appeared to be leaking gas as he walked into the restaurant. “I could hear a hiss of gas and smell it wafting up,” he said.

Whisler met his friends inside and had a glass of wine.

About 5:20, he said, Kansas City firefighters came into the restaurant and told the owners to turn off their ovens and grills and open the doors to the outside. They did as they were told, Whisler said. Employees were “covering their faces because of the odor,” he said.

“I said to the lead fire guy, ‘Shouldn’t we evacuate here?’ ” Whisler said. “They told me no, that they had called the gas company. I saw three Missouri Gas Energy workers walking around outside.”

But the odor proved too strong for Whisler, and he left JJ’s about 5:30 p.m.

“The smell inside was so bad I couldn’t stand it,” he said. “It was unbearable.”

Whisler noticed the same pipe wafting gas in the alley when he left JJ’s.

He estimated that about 15 people were in the bar and some people in the dining room when he left. The general manager, Matt Nichols, a friend of Whisler’s, was in the restaurant when he left. He was wondering Tuesday night about Nichols and other friends still at the restaurant when he left.

“Most of the staff are my friends,” he said.

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&Copy;2013 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

Visit The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) at www.kansascity.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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