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Natural Gas Likely Cause Of Explosion

Fire officials say a natural gas explosion was the likely source of the massive blast and fire at an apartment building in the San Fernando Valley. A total of about 300 people were forced out of their apartments in the tightly-packed complex in Encino, 15 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. The blast about 11 a-m yesterday tore out some rear walls of all three floors of the building, followed by a blaze that was controlled by about 200 Los Angeles firefighters.

Overnight 12 persons including one child were cared for at a Red Cross shelter at a nearby middle school. A critically injured man was identified as 47-year-old Dennis Cohen, with burns over 55 percent of his body. He is to receive skin grafs over an eight-week treatment period. He has surgery scheduled on Monday at the Grossman Burn Center in neighboring Sherman Oaks.

Resident David Van Pelt said that after the blast, he saw a man crawl out of the debris, with burns and pieces of glass all over his body. Two other people suffered less serious injuries and one firefighter was suffering from chest pains. A search of the burned portion of the apartment structure continued for any additional persons who might have been trapped by the explosion and fire, but officials said NO one had been reported missing.

Everett Betts lives in an adjacent building, and said when the explosion occurred he first was thinking: “Now they´re bombing Encino.”

Authorities said there did not appear to be any connection to a recent federal warning that terrorists could target apartment buildings. F-B-I and police bomb experts responded as a precaution after the blast. The area has many Jewish residents including some immigrants from Israel.