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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — Officials had already evacuated part of the entertainment district in one of New England's biggest cities because of a gas leak and odor report before a natural gas explosion leveled a strip club and heavily damaged a dozen other buildings, including a day care. Eighteen people were injured, many of them first responders.
Investigators were trying to figure out what caused the Friday evening blast that 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 debris scattered over several blocks.
Teams of inspectors were scheduled to assess the level of damage to other buildings in downtown Springfield on Saturday. Some controlled demolition was expected.
Firefighters, police officers and gas company workers were in the area filled with commercial properties and residences after responding to a gas leak and odor reported about an hour before the explosion.
"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 also marveled how the 5:30 p.m. blast occurred when a day care center next door was closed. The center's building was heavily damaged.
"This is a miracle on Worthington Street that no one was killed," Lt. Gov. Tim Murray said at a news conference. Murray and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno were attending a tree-lighting ceremony when the explosion occurred. 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.
Coan said his office has begun an investigation into the cause of the blast, as well as the possible origin. The state's Department of Public Utilities was also investigating.