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Gas Leak Likely Cause of Calif. Blast

May 25, 2002

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LOS ANGELES (AP) _ An explosion and fire tore through a three-story apartment complex Friday, badly burning a man, destroying or damaging a dozen of about 140 units and shattering windows of other buildings.

A large section of one building in the complex collapsed, and officials urged residents to check in at a Red Cross center for a headcount to make certain no one was under the rubble.

``All I could see was black smoke. The sky was black. It was a really spooky scene,″ said area resident Eileen Kessel, 62, who was a half-block away when the building exploded about 11 a.m., hurling debris around the Encino neighborhood.

Authorities initially said a gas leak appeared to have caused the blast, then backed away from a specific theory while still asserting it did not appear suspicious. There was no sign of any connection to a recent federal warning that terrorists could target apartment buildings.

``I see no indication that it will be a criminal investigation,″ said interim Police Chief Martin Pomeroy.

The fire damaged a dozen units of the complex, Battalion Chief Roberto Franco said. Residents were kept out of the rest of the complex and numerous units in an adjacent building because of concern that the burned building could collapse.

``There was tremendous damage here,″ Mayor James Hahn said at the scene.

A man with third-degree burns was hospitalized in critical condition. Two other people were hospitalized because they were traumatized.

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