Last updated: February 19. 2013 6:58PM - 294 Views

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Dozens of building inspectors began assessing homes and businesses in one of New England's biggest cities on Saturday, a day after a natural gas explosion leveled a strip club located next to a day care and heavily damaged a dozen other structures. The blast injured 18 people, many of them first responders.


Investigators were trying to figure out what caused the Friday night blast in Springfield that could be heard for miles, left a large hole in the ground where the multistory brick building housing Scores Gentleman's Club once stood and scattered debris over several blocks.


Officials had already evacuated part of the entertainment district after responding to a gas leak and odor reported about an hour before the explosion while firefighters, police officers and gas company workers were in the area filled with commercial properties and residences.


It really is a miracle and it's an example of our public safety officials, each and every day, putting themselves in harm's way, taking what could have been considered a very routine call of an odor of gas, but they took the proper precautions, State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said. And thanks to God that they did.


Officials also marveled how the 5:30 p.m. blast occurred when a day care center next door was closed. The center's building was heavily damaged.


Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno were attending a tree-lighting ceremony when the explosion occurred. Sarno said some people mistakenly thought the boom was part of the holiday event.


The explosion blew out windows in a three-block radius, leaving at least three buildings irreparably damaged and causing emergency workers to evacuate a six-story apartment building that was buckling, police said. Pieces of broken glass littered streets and sidewalks. It was unclear how many residents had been evacuated. A shelter was set up at a school.


Omar Fermin, manager of the Punta Cana Restaurant two blocks from the explosion site, found the floor-to-ceiling windows blasted out when he came to check on the property Saturday morning.


Authorities cordoned off the center of the explosion Saturday morning as building inspectors worked to identify unsafe structures. Anxious residents gathered at the perimeter, waiting for permission to visit their buildings.

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