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Most of the people hospitalized after a deadly explosion and fire in a Washington D.C. suburb have been released, hospital officials said late Thursday, but investigators still don’t know exactly how many may be missing in the blast.
At least two people were confirmed dead in the fireball late Wednesday at an apartment complex in Silver Spring, a suburb north of the nation’s capital. It is not believed that anyone who might still inside the building could be alive, officials said.
"Throughout the day we have located many individuals that were originally thought to be missing," Montgomery County Police Assistant Chief Russ Hamill told reporters Thursday night. "We will continue to work diligently at these efforts over the coming days."
Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service Chief Scott Goldstein had said earlier Thursday that between five and seven residents could be unaccounted for.
The search of the wreckage was suspended Thursday as night fell because darkness and the shifting walls of the building created unsafe conditions for firefighters and other personnel, officials said.
If anyone is still inside the building, they are likely not alive, Hamill said.
"From our investigators, the fire rescue investigators, the ATF investigators, tragically that doesn't seem that that's a possibility at this time,” he said.
The bodies of two people were removed from the wreckage and were sent to the medical examiner’s office for autopsies and identification, Hamill said.
More than 30 people were hurt in the explosion and fire. The blast occurred at around 11:50 p.m. Wednesday. Hamill said four detectives were sorting through information Thursday evening trying to determine exactly who is missing following the explosion and fire.
The cause of the explosion is under investigation. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is assisting.
"The ATF will make available all of our specialized resources as we work hand-in-hand with our local counterparts in Montgomery County to help determine the origin and cause of this morning’s tragic event," said ATF Baltimore Special Agent in Charge Daniel L. Board.
Utility Washington Gas said it is cooperating fully with investigators. "Our thoughts are with the families impacted by this event," the company said in a statement.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan pledged that the state would assist in any way necessary.
"The First Lady and I send our deepest prayers and condolences to all those affected by this tragedy, and to the families of those who have lost loved ones," Hogan said in a statement.
About 100 people were displaced by the explosion and fire, Hamill said.
A spokeswoman for Medstar Washington Hospital Center in D.C. told The Associated Press by phone that five patients were brought there. She said two were admitted and three were to be released Thursday afternoon.
Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, Maryland, wrote in a post on its website that nine people injured in the fire were brought to the emergency department. The hospital said one patient was transferred to another facility and one was admitted for observation as a precaution. Several have been discharged.
A spokeswoman for Holy Cross Hospital in Germantown, Maryland, said in an email that 11 patients were brought to the emergency room, and all were released by 7 a.m.