A fire caused by an apparent gas explosion near JJ's Restaurant on the Country Club Plaza has sent at least 14 people to area hospitals with injuries, some of them critical. The fire started around 6:00 Tuesday evening.
Update 7:07 PM. Residents from a nearby apartment building were evacuated. Some are reporting that there was a strong smell of gas earlier in the afternoon. One resident of the nearby building also told reporters someone was operating a backhoe in the area earlier in the afternoon.
Update 7:15 PM. There are unofficial but credible reports that there are some persons who were injured by the blast and/or the following blaze. The reports come from St. Luke's Hospital which is a short distance from the site of the fire.
Update 7:20 PM. Reports from St. Luke's Hospital indicate 10 injured taken there, at least 5 now in the ER. Reports from the fire scene say there were employees and possibly customers in the restaurant at the time of the explosion.
Update 7:25 PM. There are conflicting reports, even from police, on the cause of the blast. One report says the backhoe broke the gas main, another says an automobile accident was somehow involved. In the meantime, the blaze continues but now appears under control.
Update 7:30 PM. The initial blast was felt at least 5 blocks away and shattered windows in the block adjacent to the restaurant. The restaurant building is for practical purposes destroyed -- the roof caved in. Several neighbors report they detected a strong odor of natural gas before the explosion and at least one called to report it. Some employees left the building before the blast because the gas was making them ill.
Update 7:35 PM. Preliminary reports from St. Luke's Hospital indicate that the injury victims were cut by flying glass and debris. There are no confirmed reports of serious burns at this time.
Update 7:45 PM. The gas company and fire department report that they were at the scene before the blast because of reports of the gas odor. They apparently did evacuate the customers from J.J.'s, which was destroyed by the blast and resulting fire. Official reports now on how many injuries -- 10 taken to hospitals, 5 to St. Luke's, 5 to the KU Medical Center.
Update 7:50 PM. The restaurant owner reports that 3 employees are still unaccounted for but no one knows whether they left before the explosion. In the meantime, one of the injured victims is reported in critical condition.
Update 8:05 PM. No official report has been offered on the condition of the injured, but Mayor Sly James, at the scene, says "several persons were critically injured."
Update 8:53 PM. KMBC is reporting that at least 14 people were injured. St. Luke's said that eight people came to the hospital, including two men in critical condition.
Update 10:24 PM. Dr. Marc Larsen, director of St. Luke's ER department, confirmed that by 8:30 Tuesday night, the hospital had responded to eight victims. Two were in critical condition, and six more were stable. Truman Medical Center saw one critical patient. KU Hospital reported seeing five victims, two of whom were in critical condition, and one of whom was released.
Update 11:09 PM. The city has advised that Belleview Avenue and Roanoke Parkway between 47th Street and Ward Parkway will be closed to motorists Wednesday.
Update 11:16 PM. Missouri Gas Energy released a statement Tuesday night regarding the fire, saying: "Early indications are that a contractor doing underground work struck a natural gas line, but the investigation continues."
Find more coverage of the Plaza fire from KCUR here.