Derby, CT Restaurant Explosion, Dec 1985

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POPULAR RESTAURANT LEVELED IN EXPLOSION, KILLING AT LEAST 6.

Derby, Conn. (AP) -- Officials worked Saturday to determine what triggered a possible natural gas explosion and fire that leveled a popular restaurant, killing at least six people and injuring a dozen more.
Two bodies were found overnight among the enormous piles of bricks, wood and wet ash, and four more were uncovered after daybreak, said state police Lt. Kenneth Kirschner. Four of the victims were believed to be women and two appeared to be men, he said. The search was called off in the afternoon.
"We feel confident we have searched thoroughly," Kirschner said.
The explosion Friday afternoon blew apart the three-story brick building housing the Italian eatery and a number of apartments. The restaurant, which included a bar and two dining rooms, had been at the site since the mid-1970s.
While Kirschner said the cause of the explosion might not be known for weeks, residents, shop owners and firefighters speculated that it could have been the result of natural gas. A half-mile area around the site was evacuated overnight because of gas fumes that permeated the cold air.
The fire still smouldered Saturday, with billowing white smoke visible from miles away. Several pieces of heavy construction equipment were being used to move the debris.
Hospitals treated 12 people, including three firefighters and the 30-year-old son of the restaurant's owner who was pinned beneath a collapsed section of the building for more than four hours.
A local organization had scheduled a Christmas party for the restaurant Friday night, and Butler noted that if the explosion had taken place an hour later, "there may have been 100 people in there."
"We were suppossed to be in the place for supper at 5 p.m. and it happened at 4 p.m.," said John Getlein, proprieter of a neighboring office supply store, as he surveyed the damage Saturday.
Kirschner said utility crews had been investigated several reports of gaseous smells from neighborhood shopowners and residents.
Two investigators arrived Saturday from the National Transportation Safety Board's Hazardous Material and Pipeline Accident Division.
"We're looking for any breaks or leaks or whatever. We're going to do it very carefully," said investigator H. M. Shepherd. He said there are two gas lines in the vicinity, one 12-inch cast iron line and an intersecting three-inch line.
Philip T. Ashton, senior vice president and general manager of Northeast Utilities' gas group, said he was unaware of any recent complaints but that the company's telephone logs would be checked.
A construction crew working on sewer lines was digging near some natural gas pipelines when the explosion occurred, said Northeast Utilities spokeswoman, Georgeanne Grant. The crew was not from the utility, she said.

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