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Body pulled from wreckage of KC restaurant destroyed in gas explosion

Authorities pulled a body Wednesday from the wreckage of a landmark restaurant in Kansas City, Mo., where a natural gas explosion caused a spectacular fire.

At least 14 people were injured Tuesday night when a blaze tore through JJ’s Restaurant, part of an upscale business and shopping district. Searchers with cadaver dogs had sifted through the rubble for hours overnight looking for the lone person missing, a woman who worked at the restaurant.

The cause of the gas explosion remained under investigation. A statement released by Missouri Gas Energy said early indications were that a contractor doing underground work struck a natural gas line.

More than 100 firefighters responded to the 6 p.m. blast at JJ’s Restaurant in Country Club Plaza, an upscale business and shopping district of Kansas City. Flames shot up through the night sky, destroying the renowned Midwest dining spot as firefighters worked in below-freezing temperatures. The fire was largely under control a couple of hours later.

“JJ’s Restaurant is totally gone,” Kansas City Fire Department Chief Paul Berardi said. 

David Frantzè, the restaurant owner's brother, said the loss of the beloved eatery is a major blow to the city.

"My brother just spent 27 years of his life running this business. He's built it into one of the fine restaurants in Kansas City," Frantzè said. "To come down here and to see a hole in the ground in flames is a pretty staggering experience."

Nearby residences and apartments suffered damage after the explosion and blaze, authorities said, including a building adjacent to the restaurant with a collapsed wall.

“There will be scattered damage throughout the immediate vicinity of the incident,” James said.

It was at first thought that two people might be missing in the blaze, but authorities said that one of those people was located at St. Luke’s Hospital around midnight. 

With a major winter storm approaching, rescuers moved in heavy construction equipment on Wednesday to lift fallen debris, which was three to four feet thick over the floor of the destroyed eatery, Berardi said.

Witnesses told NBC station KSHB that they smelled natural gas in the area of the restaurant at least an hour before the explosion. 

“KCFD are on the scene and will conduct a thorough investigation of what caused the explosion,” Berardi said. “We will continue to bring out the dogs and clear that scene and then an investigation will occur.”

JJ’s has been in business since 1985, and was widely regarded as a premier city dining location, earning a 93 rating from Zagat’s. The restaurant’s wine cellar had been listed by The Wine Spectator as among the finest in the world.