No bodies were found during an extensive search of the Bremerton Motel 6 that was heavily damaged in an explosion on Tuesday night.
BREMERTON —No bodies were found during the search of the Bremerton motel that was heavily damaged in an explosion on Tuesday night.
Bremerton Fire Chief Al Duke said an hours-long search of the rubble of the Motel 6 failed to turn up any sign of deceased victims. Two residents of the motel were reported missing and unaccounted for after the explosion, although there was no solid indication that they had been in their rooms at the time of the blast.
Federal investigators plan to interview guests Wednesday to try to determine the cause of the explosion that critically injured one man and left two firefighters with minor injuries. Investigators are focusing on a gas meter which may have been damaged just before the blast.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) will assist in the investigation, which could take several weeks.
Earlier, the National Transportation Safety Board, which regulates gas pipe lines, was called to the scene. However, the agency said it was recalling its investigators after determining the cause may have been in the gas meter and not a pipeline.
Duke said two guests — a man and a woman — remained unaccounted for late Wednesday morning , but there was no evidence the two had been in the Motel 6 at the time of the explosion. Bob Calkins, with Kitsap Search and Rescue, said he had been over the piles of rubble and debris with a cadaver dog numerous times, but the dog had not “hit” on possible human remains.
A Cascade Natural Gas employee was injured when the motel exploded into flames around 8:30 Tuesday night. The employee was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with second- and third-degree burns as well as “lacerations to the head,” Bremerton Police Chief Steve Strachan said.
He is in critical condition and in the intensive-care unit, hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said.
Cascade Natural Gas identified the man as Larry Jennings, 59, who has been employed by the utility since 1982. He lives in Bremerton with his wife.
“The family elected to release Larry’s name in hope of drawing on the power of prayer for his recovery,” said Eric Martuscelli, vice president of operations for Cascade Natural Gas.
The explosion at the Motel 6 happened about 8:25 p.m. Tuesday. Cascade continues to work with local authorities to conduct a thorough investigation. No cause for the explosion has been determined at this time.
Police spent the night chasing down rumors about a cause for the explosion — including allegations that someone drove a car into the gas meter, that someone struck the meter with a hammer or that the explosion was somehow related to a domestic-violence incident.
“We have no conclusive evidence of foul play right now,” Strachan said.
Tonya Hinds, manager of the Motel 6, told displaced guests on Wednesday morning that ATF agents would be interviewing them later in the day.
Just before 8 p.m. Tuesday, a call went out to Cascade Natural Gas of a possible gas leak at the motel, Bremerton police said. The building, at 3400 11th St., was evacuated, fire officials said. Around 8:30 p.m. a section of the motel exploded into flames, shooting plumes of thick, black smoke into the sky.
Hinds said that a passerby had come into her office to say a gas line was leaking at 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.”
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“I pulled the alarm and started corralling people away from the building,” Hinds said. “I wanted to make sure all my guests were out.”
“I’m just glad I acted on instinct and everything turned out the way it did,” Hinds said.
Strachan called Hinds a hero. He said that firefighters and police also helped with the evacuations.
“I was talking to one of the officers last night who was less than 50 feet from the explosion. He said, ‘I didn’t even hear any sound.’ “
Strachan said the officer told him the size of the explosion was “surreal.”
“Right now we’re down to one critical injury, which is really bad, and two people missing, but you have to contemplate how much worse it could have been,” Strachan said.
None of the motel patrons was reported injured, but some firefighters who had responded to the initial call were blown back about 20 feet from the blast, police said. One suffered bruised ribs and another a concussion, Duke said. They are recovering at home.
Hinds asked for prayers for the critically injured gas company employee. “He was here for us.”
The motel, which reopened last fall after an extensive remodel, had about 65 guests in 42 occupied rooms, and the blast destroyed about one-quarter of the building, Hinds said. She said that one guest reported having seen someone jump out a window of the three-story establishment and land on or near the gas line just before the leak.
Several people said their life possessions were in the motel at the time. Numerous people saw the explosion and fire after being removed from the building.
The Red Cross was responding to find the guests alternative housing, Strachan said.