A clinic in northeast Japan collapsed on Monday after a suspected gas leak, leaving 27 dead and 22 injured, a casualty count that one official said was expected to increase as search crews combed through the smoldering ruins.
Officials told Japanese public broadcaster NHK that the fire in Minami-Sanriku near the city of Kamaishi was being treated as a possible gas leak. Hospital workers said 20 bodies were found inside the clinic at the scene, while four patients were carried away on stretchers with burns, NHK reported.
The crisis was contained by around 6:30 a.m. local time, Japan’s Defense Ministry said. Police were still searching for other victims, along with its aftermath.
The floor of the building fell on workers and patients in the explosion and fire, the reports said. Some patients were left trapped in buildings and others were transported to other hospitals. Emergency crews were searching the rubble using metal detectors, rope and cameras, according to the officials.
Firefighters were investigating the circumstances of the blast.
Media reports have speculated that a break-in at the clinic that began in the early hours of the morning may have sparked the fire.
The clinic holds dialysis patients and treatments for cancer patients are regular. It was apparently the only treatment center for the city of Minami-Sanriku. The facility is near the hospital complex and several roads were closed.
“[The broken] gas pipes have been close to the clinic since (early) this morning,” said the mayor of the city of Minami-Sanriku, Tadahiro Aramaki, in remarks reported by NHK. “We are very concerned, but it seems there is no immediate possibility of a disaster.”
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