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Heat hampers search of blast homes

A quarter of the homes burned in an enormous blaze sparked after a gas line ruptured are still too hot to search for victims, fire officials have said.

Fire Chief Dennis Haag said that crews are going door to door in the neighbourhood near San Francisco. At least four people were killed in the explosion and dozens more injured, with authorities warning there could be more casualties. Crews are still unable to access the site of the ruptured gas line because it is covered with water.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company president Chris Johns said crews still haven't been able to determine the cause of the rupture or the ensuing blast because they cannot get close enough.

The explosion was heard for miles and shot a fireball more than 1,000 feet in the air, sending frightened residents fleeing for safety and rushing to get belongings out of burning homes, witnesses said.

California Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado, acting governor while Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was in Asia on a trade mission, declared a state of emergency in San Mateo County.

"It was like a bomb went off," Maldonado said, adding that the cause of the rupture was still unclear.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co said a damaged section of a 30-inch steel gas pipeline had been isolated and gas flow had been stopped.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to investigate.

Fire Captain Charlie Barringer said the neighbourhood was engulfed by the time firefighters arrived, even though the fire station was only a few blocks away. He said the blast took out the entire water system, forcing firefighters to pump water from more than two miles away.

Victims suffering from serious burns began arriving at San Francisco Bay area hospitals shortly after the blast. At least 120 homes also suffered serious damage.

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From Belfast Telegraph