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Motel 6 explosion in Washington state injures gas company worker

Motel 6 explosion in Washington state injures gas company worker
Firefighters cool down hot spots after an explosion Tuesday night at a Motel 6 in Bremerton, Wash. (Larry Steagall / Associated Press)

No bodies were found in the debris of a Motel 6 in Bremerton, Wash., after a powerful natural gas explosion blew apart a portion of  the building, injuring a gas company worker and throwing several firefighters back 20 feet, officials said Wednesday.

"We're 99.9% sure there's nobody in there,"  Bremerton Fire Chief Al Duke said Wednesday afternoon.

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Earlier, officials had said two guests were missing. But Duke said authorities had not been contacted by either of the guests' families, and the motel is frequented by shipyard contractors who may not have been in the building when the blast occurred Tuesday night.

Emergency personnel received a call about a natural gas odor at the motel shortly before 8 p.m. The explosion erupted about half an hour later, collapsing part of the building.  More than 100 firefighters from four fire departments converged on the scene.

The injured gas worker was taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with second- and third-degree burns.

Throughout the day, crews sifted through a large pile of rubble with their hands and an excavator, but found no bodies. Cadaver dogs helped  search the rubble.

"We don't know what caused the explosion at this point," said Laura Lueder, a spokeswoman for Cascade Natural Gas Corp., which serves about 272,000 customers in Washington and Oregon. "We're just trying to make sure that the public is safe."

In the hours after the blast, social media users posted photos of smoke billowing from the damaged three-story motel. Others reported online that they felt the explosion.

"Anyone else hear the big booming explosion in Bremerton?" Andrew Campbell asked on Twitter.

Wanza Avery, who spoke to NBC News at the scene, said the building had collapsed on top of itself.

"My car was pushed out of the way by the force," she said.

Hours after the blast, Duke said firefighters allowed the flames to continue to burn as a precautionary measure to prevent a possible second explosion as the gas leak continued.

The pipeline was secured at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to statement from Cascade.

Motel manager Tonya Hinds said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press that a passerby had alerted her to the leaking gas line in the back of the building. Hinds — a former volunteer firefighter — said she went outside and saw that the leaking line was a big one "with a lot of gas," and she quickly moved to evacuate the building.

"I pulled the alarm and started corraling people away from the building," Hinds said. "I wanted to make sure all my guests were out."

Bremerton Police Chief Steve Strachan praised her actions.

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"The management did a really good job of getting the alarm in right away and getting the evacuation started. We're very thankful there weren't more injuries," he said.

Bremerton is west of Seattle, across Puget Sound.

The motel, which reopened last fall after extensive remodeling, had about 65 guests in 42 occupied rooms, the hotel manager said, and the blast destroyed about one-quarter of the building.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.  

Twitter: @natalieschachar

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