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Company linked to fatal Kansas City blast did not have required permit

By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - An excavation company that severed a natural gas line and triggered a fatal explosion at a Kansas City restaurant last week lacked the required permit to do the work, a city official said on Monday.

Heartland Midwest Co was required to have an excavation permit to dig in a city right-of-way, Assistant City Manager Pat Klein said. The company had no permit to dig near JJ's Restaurant, but applied for one the day after the explosion and fire, Klein said.

The company's employees struck a two-inch gas line while digging. About an hour later, an explosion rocked the restaurant and triggered a large fire, killing one person and injuring 15 others.

A person answering the phone at Heartland Midwest on Monday referred calls to a lawyer for the firm, Bradley Russell. He did not return a call seeking comment.

Failure to get the permit is a municipal offense, subjecting violators to a $500 fine and six months in jail, Klein said.

Missouri Gas Energy, which supplies natural gas in Kansas City, was aware that Heartland planned to dig in the area, officials said.

The company notified a non-profit service called Missouri One Call of its excavation plans, which in turn contacted Missouri Gas Energy, said John Lansford, One Call executive director. The location of the gas line was marked before excavation began, said company spokesman Jason Fulp.

The puncture of the line lead to a strong smell of gas in and around JJ's in the fashionable shopping area of Kansas City known as County Club Plaza, witnesses said. Firefighters responded to the scene but left after Missouri Gas workers arrived and began trying to stop the leak.

Missouri gas crews recommended people inside JJ's evacuate, gas company Chief Operating Officer Rob Hack said last week, but some remained inside when the blast occurred. The incident remains under investigation by fire officials.

(Reporting by Kevin Murphy; Editing by Greg McCune, Bernard Orr)

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