Image: Emergency workers after an explosion
Felipe Dana  /  AP
Emergency workers stand among debris after an explosion at a restaurant in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Thursday. Officials say they are investigating the cause of the explosion that killed at least three people and injured at least 13 others.
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updated 10/13/2011 11:44:57 AM ET 2011-10-13T15:44:57

An explosion likely caused by a gas leak ripped through a restaurant in downtown Rio de Janeiro on Thursday, killing at least three people and injuring 13, officials said.

The explosion around 7:30 a.m. caused heavy damage to the restaurant, which wasn't open, and to the apartments above it, said Ronaldo Alcantara, the second in command of Rio's fire department, who was at the site of the explosion.

"The three fatal victims were flung outside the building," Alcantara said.

Firefighters and the city's civil defense department are searching for more victims, though no people are known to be missing, he said. And they are investigating the cause of the explosion, which Alcantara said was was likely caused by a gas leak.

The restaurant had been closed on Wednesday, a holiday, and gas had probably leaked throughout the day and night. When the restaurant's first employees arrived Thursday morning, they may have somehow caused a spark that ignited the gas, said Alcantara.

The blast blew out windows up to the 8th floor in the building, and flung debris as far as 110 yards (100 meters).

The victims have been identified as restaurant employees. Three of the injured are in serious condition and have been taken to a local hospital.

A spokeswoman for Rio's gas company said a search of records revealed the company had not delivered gas to the restaurant since 1961 and firefighter commander Sergio Simoes told reporters that the restaurant was using gas cylinders though safety officials had banned their use there.

"Whoever installed this commercial cooking gas system was not authorized, and could be held criminally liable," he said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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