By William M. Welch, Doug Stanglin and Michael Winter, USA TODAY
The explosion and fire that destroyed a popular Kansas City, Mo., restaurant Tuesday evening resulted from a cable TV work crew puncturing a 2-inch natural gas main, officials said Wednesday.
Fumes escaped for more than an hour as Missouri Gas Energy workers tried to stop the leak, which was reported to the fire department at 4:54 p.m. The blast occurred at 6:04 p.m., shortly after firefighters recommended that J.J.'s Restaurant be evacuated.
Earlier Wednesday, search crews found a body in the bar area of the blackened rubble, Kansas City Mayor Sly James said. The blast injured 15 other people. Six remained hospitalized late Wednesday, three of them with critical injuries.
James did not say whether the victim was a man or a woman. Another employee who had been believed to be missing was located at St. Luke's Hospital receiving treatment.
The Springfield, Mo., family of a missing employee, 46-year-old Megan Cramer, said Wednesday afternoon that they believe the body is hers because no one has been able to reach her since the blast.
Authorities said it may take a day or two to confirm the identity.
In a statement, Cramer's family described her as "a poet, writer, attorney, social activist, and server" who was "loved and was beloved by those with whom she met and interacted."
Born in Emporia, Kan., Cramer grew up in Springfield and received undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Her family said she had lived in the upscale Country Club Plaza district for 26 years.
Her family said that when she was a law student she had helped death row prisoners at Potosi Federal Prison, and that she had helped establish the first chapter of the Lesbian and Gay Student Group at the university.
Heavy equipment began arriving before dawn as workers rushed to remove the debris and investigate the cause of the blast because of the expected arrival of a powerful winter storm, James said. Cadaver dogs were being used to scour the blackened debris.
Workers from Heartland Midwest were extending a fiber-optic line for Time Warner Cable when they reported hitting the gas main, which was marked. The crew was extending the line to a nearby hotel, a company official told WDAF-TV. On Wednesday afternoon, Kansas City Fire Chief Paul Berardi released a timeline of events leading to the four-alarm fire, which burned for about 90 minutes.
At 5:47 p.m., about 50 minutes after the leak was reported, a three-man Missouri Gas Energy crew used a backhoe to "vent" the area where they thought the leak had been. Three of six utility employees at the scene were among those injured when the gas exploded.
A Missouri Gas Energy spokesman said Wednesday afternoon that it wasn't clear exactly what ignited the gas but that the source was likely inside the restaurant.
Some residents told KCTV they had smelled gas about an hour before the explosion and alerted the local utility.
KMBC-TV, citing a man who said he visited the restaurant regularly, reported that firefighters and Missouri Gas Energy representatives had been checking for the source of a gas odor before the explosion. Customers were asked to leave, but several employees stayed behind.
Police initially reported that the leak and explosion were caused by a car accidentally hitting a natural gas main.
Contributing: Steve Wieberg in Kansas City; Alia E. Dastagir in McLean, Va.; the Associated Press