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18 hurt in explosion that levels strip club, damages 40 buildings

| Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, 7:50 p.m.
Inspectors look through debris on Saturday, Nov. 24, at the site of a gas explosion that leveled a strip club in Springfield, Mass., on Friday evening. AP

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Preliminary investigations show more than 40 buildings were damaged in a natural gas explosion in Massachusetts that injured 18 people, building inspectors said Saturday.

A strip club was flattened and a day care center was heavily damaged in the explosion Friday night in Springfield, one of New England's biggest cities.

No one was killed in the explosion.

Investigators were trying to figure out what caused the blast, which could be heard for miles, left a large hole in the ground where the multistory brick building housing Scores Gentleman's Club once stood and scattered debris over several blocks.

Officials had evacuated part of the entertainment district after responding to a gas leak and odor reported about an hour before the explosion. Gas workers venting a gas leak got indications that the building was about to explode and they ducked for cover behind a utility truck — along with firefighters and police officers — just before the blast, said Mark McDonald, president of the New England Gas Workers Association.

Most of the injured were in that group, and the truck that saved their lives was essentially demolished, he said.

“It really is a miracle and it's an example of our public safety officials, each and every day, putting themselves in harm's way, taking what could have been considered a very routine call of an odor of gas, but they took the proper precautions,” State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said. “And thanks to God that they did.”

Officials marveled at how the 5:30 p.m. blast occurred when a day care center next door was closed. The center's building was heavily damaged.

Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno were attending a tree-lighting ceremony at the time. Sarno said some people mistakenly thought the boom was part of the holiday event.

The explosion blew out windows in a three-block radius, leaving at least three buildings irreparably damaged and causing emergency workers to evacuate a six-story apartment building that was buckling, police said. Pieces of broken glass littered streets and sidewalks. It was unclear how many residents had been evacuated. A shelter was set up at a school, but city officials said no one stayed there overnight.

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