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Gas Smell Reported Minutes Before Plantation Shopping Plaza Explosion

A worker at a nearby restaurant smelled gas around 11 a.m. Saturday, minutes before the explosion destroyed a vacant pizza restaurant

A nearby worker reported a gas smell at a Plantation shopping plaza shortly before an explosion that left more than 20 people injured, officials said Monday.

The worker at a nearby restaurant smelled gas around 11 a.m. Saturday, minutes before the explosion destroyed a vacant pizza restaurant and left other businesses and cars damaged, said Cherie Jacobs, a spokesperson for TECO Peoples Gas.

"We believe that is the first call to report the smell of gas," Jacobs said.

Jacobs said the gas company was "in the process" of dispatching a technician when the explosion happened. Though firefighters found ruptured gas lines afterward, authorities said it was too early to determine a cause.

The explosion hurled large pieces of concrete up to 50 yards away and sent pieces of metal scattering as far as 100 yards across the street. At least 21 people were injured though none of the injuries was life-threatening, Police Sgt. Jessica Ryan said.

The restaurant, called PizzaFire, had been out of business for several months. The blast also blew out the windows of the popular LA Fitness club next door at the shopping plaza.

Crews were at the shopping plaza Monday working to clean up debris to allow some businesses to reopen. Plantation Police tweeted on Monday that businesses in the nearby Fountains Plaza were given approval to open back up, but said there was still debris in a section of the parking lot.

Employees and customers also returned Monday to retrieve their belongings that they left when they evacuated after the explosion.

Traci Leon, the owner of the Code Ninjas coding center that was next door to the shuttered pizza shop, got her first look at her business Monday morning.

"We don't even recognize anything," Leon said.

Leon closed the location for the July 4th holiday, unknowingly sparing many lives, including her own.

"We would have been full of twenty, thirty kids. Parents, employees, me. We were thankful we were closed cause we're always very busy on Saturdays," Leon said.

Genevieve Manzoni, the director of personal training at LA Fitness, showed up Monday to retrieve client files and recounted being caught in the blast.

"I was sitting at my desk, just took a bite out of my sandwich and I was texting my mom 'happy birthday' and then it was just, I really thought the whole building was falling down because it started to fall on me," Manzoni said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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