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Wednesday 1 October 2014

Two killed in US jail gas explosion

Published 01/05/2014 | 10:27

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An explosion caused damage to the Escambia County Jail in Pensacola, Florida (AP)

An apparent gas explosion has rocked a jail in the US, killing two inmates and injuring more than 100 other people.

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The blast at a booking facility at the Escambia County Jail in Pensacola, in the Florida Panhandle, late yesterday caused the building to partially collapse, a county spokeswoman said.

Pieces of glass and brick were strewn about on the ground. The front of the building appeared bowed out, with cracks throughout. Authorities blocked off roads leading to the jail.

As many as 150 inmates and corrections officers were injured, public information manager Kathleen Castro said.

A couple of blocks from the jail, Ellis Robinson and his family awoke to a loud noise after midnight, their home rattling.

"It shook the whole house," he said. "I got up, the dog started barking, people were running up there." He spent the night observing the chaos and watching as inmates were loaded into buses.

About 600 inmates - 200 men and 400 women - were in the building at the time, Ms Castro said. Those with injuries, all of them minor, were taken to hospitals and the uninjured were taken to jails in neighbouring counties, officials said.

Ms Castro said authorities did not yet know the extent of injuries, but local hospitals said some with minor issues had already been released. One inmate is pregnant and she was well after the blast, she added.

The Pensacola area was drenched by rains and severely flooded yesterday as a large storm system made its way across the US.

Ms Castro said she did not know whether that was a factor in the explosion. The generator was running at the time, but she said officials do not believe that is related.

Search-and-rescue teams have combed the building several times and believe everyone is accounted for, Ms Castro said. She said investigators are on the scene and a fire marshal would ultimately determine the cause.

Defence lawyer Gene Mitchell stood outside police tape at the jail this morning, reviewing dozens of text messages from clients' relatives.

"I have over 20 clients in there," he said. "I've had dozens of calls. Every other call is a family member wanting to know what has happened to a loved one."

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said t hree inmates are unaccounted for and one corrections officer was seriously injured. The jail was almost completely destroyed, he added.

"The explosion shook us so hard it was like we were in an earthquake," Monique Barnes, an inmate who said she was knocked off her bunk, said. "It was like a movie, a horrible, horrible movie."

She said she and others had complained of smelling gas ahead of the blast and some reported headaches. Toilets were not working and they had to use plastic bin bags, she added.

During the evacuation, hundreds of inmates and prison officers used one stairwell, with "everyone pushing and bleeding", she said.

Press Association

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