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CA blast destroys dozens of homes

Deadly natural gas line break causes six-alarm fire injuring 52 and damaging more than 100 homes in San Bruno neighborhood.

SAN FRANCISCO | September 10, 2010

A massive natural gas explosion rocked a neighborhood in the city of San Bruno in central California on early Thursday evening, killing at least four people and injuring at least 52, officials said.

A large fireball was seen by numerous witnesses around 6:24 p.m. PDT, setting dozens of homes on fire.

Acting California Governor Abel Maldonado said during a press conference that at least four people were killed and 52 were injured. At 38 homes had been destroyed, while 7 others sustained less severe fire damage. He added that 26 residents had been evacuated to shelters.

Scores of emergency responders were on the scene of the disaster to battle the huge six-alarm blaze, but few details were immediately available on casualties. At least two people were found dead on the scene, while scores of others were taken to area hospitals.

Karl Sonkin, a spokesman for South San Francisco Medical Center, said it received a total of fifteen patients. Nine of them were treated, released and sent home while two others were still being evaluated. The other four were sent to a burn unit at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital, where a spokeswoman confirmed three of them were in a critical but stable condition. The fourth was in a stable condition.

A spokeswoman for San Francisco General Hospital said it received five patients - three in a critical condition, one in a serious condition and one in a 'good' condition. Additionally, a spokeswoman for Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame, several miles from the scene, said that five people with minor injuries arrived at the hospital by themselves.

First responders at the scene said one person was found deceased on a sidewalk, while five more bodies were found inside the remains of burned down homes. It was not immediately clear how many people could still be missing.

In addition to the civilian casualties, four firefighters were also injured, although it was not immediately clear to which hospital they were transported.

The blast was so strong that residents miles away were able to hear and feel the explosion. "We're fine. We heard the blast, and we can see the fire," a resident, who lives about two miles from the scene, told BNO News. "We're told it's a gas pump explosion by firefighters going by."

Few details were immediately available about what may have caused the natural gas explosion. "Though a cause has yet to be determined, we know that a PG&E gas transmission line was ruptured," a statement from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) said. "The priority right now is to help make the area safe. We have crews on the scene and are working with emergency officials."

"If it is ultimately determined that we were responsible for the cause of the incident, we will take accountability.," the company added as speculation emerged that residents had smelled a strange odor in the area for days.

Joseph Schadler, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), said their Joint Terrorism Task Force had been sent to the scene "just in case." Terrorism, however, did not appear to have been involved.

Maldonado declared a state of emergency and said the fire which continued to burn on early Friday threatened numerous other structures, causing evacuations of residents and the opening of emergency shelters.

In addition to the state of emergency proclaimed by Maldonado, San Bruno officials also declared a local disaster.

Maldonado takes over as Acting Governor when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is out of the state. Schwarzenegger left for Asia on Thursday on a trade mission.

(Copyright 2010 by BNO News B.V. All rights reserved.)

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