Nightly News   |  February 20, 2013

1 dead, 15 injured in Kansas City explosion

A huge gas explosion thought to have been caused by a contractor doing underground work wrecked a landmark restaurant in Kansas City, Mo. More than 100 firefighters battled the blaze at its height, and by daybreak the devastation was revealed. NBC’s John Yang reports.

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>>> the great american city of kansas city was rocked to its core last night. a huge explosion at a popular restaurant, well-known locally and to business travelers. one person has been found dead. the search for more possible victims goes on. and there's a big early indicator as to the cause. nbc's john yang with us tonight from the scene. john, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. this evening we're learning new details. the gas company says that 45 minutes before the explosion tore that restaurant apart, they tried to get people to leave. the blast was so strong, it rocked buildings blocks away.

>> boom! everything just exploded. it was just the scariest thing i ever witnessed.

>> reporter: the fire was so big, it engulfed a city block , raging out of control for about two hours.

>> the flames were even taller than the building next to it.

>> reporter: more than 100 firefighters battled the blaze at its height of four-alarm fire. authorities said 15 people were taken to area hospitals, at least one of them in critical condition. once the fire was out, firefighters combed the debris with cadaver- sniffer dogs . daybreak revealed the full scope of the devastation. jj's, a popular restaurant for nearly three decades, flattened. later investigators made a grisly discovery in the restaurant's bar area.

>> unfortunately, i have the task of reporting to you today that we have recovered a body at the scene.

>> reporter: surveillance video from a travel agency across the street captured the blast, which came at about 6:00 p.m . the place would normally have been packed for happy hour, but there had been a strong smell of natural gas in the area.

>> approximately 5:15 in the evening, we were called for a construction worker that had struck a gas line.

>> reporter: the fire department and the gas company investigated. officials said firefighters left when utility workers said they had things under control. investigators are racing against a big winter storm , which is threatening to bury key evidence you said as much as a foot of snow. brian?

>> john yang in kansas city