A massive natural gas explosion reduced a Toronto strip mall to a smoking crater Thursday afternoon, leaving at least three people dead and seven more unaccounted for, said to Stephan Powell, district chief for Toronto Fire Services.
"A construction crew was pulling up a gas main beneath the street," Powell said. "It was shortly thereafter that the building blew up."
Powell said the provincial Office of the Fire Marshal was certain the blast was caused by natural gas, but "the point of ignition has yet to be determined."
The explosion "leveled the entire strip plaza," said Pfc. Mike Hayles, spokesman for the Toronto Police Department. The blast left a crater about nine feet deep. Several other buildings near the strip mall incurred minor damage; windows were blown out all over the neighborhood, Hayles said.
"The church two doors down lost all its brick," said Powell.
The strip mall was a two-story building with four businesses on the first floor and four apartments on the second.
Workers continued to dig through the rubble Friday to look for remains.
"It's gone from a rescue effort to a recovery effort," Hayles said.
Relief workers from several volunteer groups, including the Salvation Army, were on hand to provide help to those in need.
"We've been on site working with families who lost their loved ones or their businesses," said Neil Leduke, a spokesman for the Salvation Army in Toronto. "And, our feeding team provided a hot breakfast for those left homeless by the explosion as well as firefighters and workers."
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