Los Angeles: A utility worker was killed and 15 other people were injured on Monday in an explosion, apparently triggered by a ruptured natural gas line, that levelled a house in the Southern California town of Murrieta, authorities said.
The blast, according to local media reports, sent flames shooting some 30 feet (9 m) in the air and rocked the surrounding Riverside County neighbourhood with such force that some residents initially mistook it for an earthquake.
City firefighters responding to reports of a gas line rupture were already at the house when Southern California Gas company employees came on the scene to address the leak, Murrieta Fire and Rescue Deputy Chief David Lantzer told a news conference.
The explosion occurred shortly after noon, about 30 minutes after the SoCalGas workers had arrived, Lantzer said. Murrieta is about 80 miles (130 km) southwest of Los Angeles.
One of the utility workers on the scene was killed, SoCalGas spokesman Randon Lane told reporters. Lantzer said 15 people injured in the blast were transported to hospitals for evaluation.
He said he did not have information on their condition, but added: "Of the 15, I don't have any reports of fatalities."
Los Angeles City News Service reported that the gas company also indicated that an occupant of the house may have been unaccounted for after the blast.
Local television news footage from the scene showed firefighters dousing the charred, mangled ruins of the house with water, with one of its walls still standing. A house next door appeared to have been damaged as well.
The Riverside Press-Enterprise newspaper quoted a SoCalGas spokeswoman, Christine Detz, as saying that the utility employees arrived at the home after a contractor working there had damaged a gas line.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of today’s incident which took the life of one of our employees, injured firefighters, and impacted others," the company said in a statement issued hours later.
Lastacia Neat, 47, who lives across the street and two houses down from the one that blew up, told the Press-Enterprise the explosion shattered windows throughout the neighbourhood.
Another neighbour, Kevin McKinney, 63, who lives next door, was quoted as saying he heard "just a huge, huge explosion, and then I heard screams and went outside."
Authorities said the precise cause of the gas line rupture and explosion was under investigation.