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Huge gas line explosion in San Francisco ignites inferno

Gas explosion rocks Calif. neighborhood

A construction site gas line explosion rocked a San Francisco neighborhood and set off an inferno Wednesday afternoon, burning five buildings before crews were able to cap the gas, CBS San Francisco reported. PG&E and the San Francisco Fire Department said workers were able to turn off  the gas line feeding the 30-foot-high flames some two-and-a-half hours after the explosion.

No injuries were reported.

The incident happened in the city's Jordan Park neighborhood. A two-story building — the site of the popular Hong Kong Lounge II restaurant and of residences on the second floor — was extensively damaged by the blaze.

Police and fire department personnel evacuated people within a one-block radius, the fire department said.

"I saw this spew of gas coming out of where they were working, and I said, 'That's a gas main,' witness John Anglin told CBS San Francisco. "And within probably five seconds, all of a sudden it ignited and the flames just shot, like, straight up the air, probably 20, 30 feet up in the air. It was crazy."

San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said workers with a private contractor were installing a fiber cable line when they ripped into a gas line with an excavator. The flames enveloped the excavator and spread quickly to the nearby eatery.

The smoke in the area was thick and the flames were reaching above the buildings two-and-a-half hours after the blast.

Five restaurant workers originally reported as missing were later accounted for, the fire department said.

"I was walking through the intersection just before it exploded and I looked up and saw a bunch of people in front of me screaming," said witness Michael Comstock. "So I turned around I saw the flame growing behind me. It just kind of started erupting and I actually thought it was a bomb for a second. So I just started taking off down the street."

"We were in the store, we heard almost like an air noise," Michael, a worker at a nearby Verizon store, told CBS San Francisco. "It sounded like pressure was building up. I saw people running across the street so I ran out. We saw flames everywhere. Construction workers saying, 'Get back.' They said someone is probably dead. I'm just hoping everything is OK."

Sisters Cindy and Judy Chan were in the Hong Kong Flower Lounge Two restaurant celebrating Chinese New Year with their parents when the fire started.

"I heard popping sounds. I thought it was fire crackers because it's Chinese New Year," said Cindy. Within seconds, all they could see was a bright orange glow surrounding the restaurant.

The Chans said restaurant staff escorted everyone inside through the kitchen and and a back banquet room to the street.

Some 300 customers were left without gas service and another 235 were without power following the explosion and fire, but power was restores for most customers by 10:15 p.m., PG&E said, adding there was no estimate of when gas service would be back on.

A shelter was set up in a nearby cathedral for evacuees who needed somewhere to stay.