NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 6/17/2011 2:54:14 AM ET 2011-06-17T06:54:14

A ferocious explosion believed caused by a gas leak rocked a four-story building in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya early Friday, killing four people and injuring dozens.

The explosion took place shortly after midnight Friday in Netanya, gutting a large apartment building and blowing out windows on a busy thoroughfare.

It was feared dozens of people were trapped inside, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Local police commander Shimon Shomroni said Friday the blast was an "accident."

Shomroni told Army Radio that investigators are looking into the cause and are questioning a technician who checked the gas canisters at the building on Thursday.

Israel Radio reported police arrested a person who may have cut a gas line causing a leak that led to the explosion, according to The Jerusalem Post. The man was detained by police earlier on Thursday and later released for trying to steal gas pipes that are made of metal that can later be sold, according to the report.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said it appeared to be a result of at least one gas tank exploding in the residential building. Many people use tanks of gas for cooking fuel.

The owner of a restaurant nearby told Army Radio that he had reported the smell of gas to fire services about an hour before the explosion.

Police reported "widescale destruction" in the blast area, with a number of nearby buildings heavily damaged, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Police and ambulances rushed to the scene after a loud explosion was reported on the third floor of a building in the city, north of Tel Aviv, after midnight. Residents in the area said that the front of the residential building collapsed, Israeli news website Ynet reported.

Most of those injured were only slightly hurt, authorities said.

This report includes information from The Associated Press, NBC News and msnbc.com staff.

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