One dead, at least 7 hurt in Pueblo restaurant blast |

One dead, at least 7 hurt in Pueblo restaurant blast

Catherine Tsai
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Firefighters walk past burning debris to the scene of the explosion at the Branch Inn along Union Avenue in Pueblo, Colo. on Thursday afternoon, Nov. 13, 2008. In addition to the restaurant in the city's Historic District, several other businesses were destroyed or damaged. Authorities did not know whether the restaurant was open at the time or how many people were inside. The cause is being investigated. (AP Photo/Pueblo Chieftain, Bryan Kelsen)
AP | The Pueblo Chieftain

PUEBLO, Colo. ” One person died and at least seven people were injured in an explosion that leveled a Pueblo restaurant and heavily damaged an adjacent building.

Pueblo County Coroner James Kramer says the victim died at a hospital.

Pueblo Fire Chief Chris Riley said the person who died was one of two women dug out of the rubble in the shop next to the restaurant. She was freed about 90 minutes after the other woman told crews she was still in the store.

Firefighters dug a man from the debris of the restaurant at around 6:30 p.m., more than four hours after the blast. Riley said he conscious and talking.

A total of seven people, including the woman who died, were transported to the hospital. An eighth person went unassisted later, Fire Department spokesman Woody Percival said. He didn’t know the conditions of the patients.

The victims’ names weren’t released.

Percival said late Thursday night that authorities had no reason to believe anyone was left in the buildings after crews searched the area. Buildings in several blocks in all directions were evacuated.

Percival said a leaking natural gas pipe was found in the street next to the restaurant, but it wasn’t clear if the pipe was ruptured by the explosion or contributed to it. The pipe was capped.

Local, state and federal agencies were working together on the investigation.

Authorities did not know if the restaurant was open for business at the time of the blast. Smoke was still rising from the rubble hours afterward.

Glass block, bricks and other debris were strewn more than 100 feet from the restaurant. The third-floor windows of an apartment across the street were blown out.

The explosion was so powerful that the front door from the restaurant was blown into the intersection and the hinge lodged in the fender of an SUV at a stop sign. The Branch Inn sign was lying on its side in the street and an odor of burnt plastic filled the air.

The driver of the SUV, Christine Guerin, 35, of Pueblo, said she was looking for a business when all in a sudden she heard and explosion and saw glass flying toward her.

“You couldn’t even see the building. It was just smoke, black smoke,” she said, saying she could hear a hissing noise and smelled gas after she got out of her car.

“People started running toward the building and screaming if anybody needed help,” she said, adding that she saw a man come out of the building and collapse on the street.

Police quickly arrived quickly and began escorting people from the scene.

Percival said at least five of the injured were in the restaurant or just outside, and two women were in the building next door.

Percival did not know what type of business was in the adjacent building. He said the neighborhood is dotted with boutiques that sell clocks, antiques, clothing and gifts.

“I don’t recognize what’s there,” he said.

Rick Beatty, a delivery driver for the nearby Flower and Herb Co., says the restaurant was “flat to the ground.”

Flower and Herb Co. owner Mardi Clay said the explosion was so loud she thought a car had smashed into her shop.

“It rattled the whole block,” she said, and smoke was billowing from the building.

“We’ve all got stomach aches figuring out how we can help, but you can’t get in (firefighters’) way,” Clay said.

Pueblo, a city of about 106,000, is 100 miles south of Denver.

The cause is under investigation. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were asked to assist and a building collapse team from Fort Carson arrived at the scene.

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