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1 killed, 1 still missing after Michigan gas explosion

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Explosion rips apart furniture store
  • NEW: Body found in rubble of furniture store destroyed by gas explosion, officials say
  • NEW: 1 person still missing; search will continue until she is found, officials say
  • NEW: Store owner in serious but stable condition
  • NEW: Nine homeowners still haven't been able to return home

(CNN) -- The body of a 64-year-old man was pulled from the ruins of furniture store destroyed by a gas explosion in Wayne, Michigan, as crews planned to search through the night, if necessary, for another person still missing, city officials said Wednesday night.

The victim was identified only as a male employee of Franks Furniture, who lived in Westland, Michigan

A female store employee, also of Westland, still was missing Wednesday night, City Manager John Zech said.

The store's owner, Paul Franks, 64, was pulled from the wreckage shortly after the explosion, which occurred at about 9 a.m., Zech said. He was in serious but stable condition at the University of Michigan Hospital's burn unit. He was listed as critical earlier in the day.

Search and rescue crews, aided by heavy equipment, continued to remove huge amounts of rubble from the scene of the blast, which damaged several buildings in addition to the furniture store. Wayne Fire Chief Mel Moore said the process was made more difficult by the removal of "thousands of pounds of concrete" from the store's roof trusses.

Cadaver dogs were being used in the search area, and had helped locate the body of the first missing victim, Moore said.

As many as 300 people were evacuated after the explosion and a second reported leak in a neighborhood adjoining the furniture store in the suburban Detroit city.

As of Wednesday night, residents of all but nine homes were able to return, and were being offered lodging elsewhere for the night, said Debra Dodd, a spokeswoman for the gas utility, Consumers Energy.

Zech said police Wednesday afternoon were securing the businesses that had been affected -- some of which had windows blown out by the explosion - and others that were evacuated so the owners would not need to return until the all clear.

Mayor Abdul "Al" Haidous described Frank's Furniture as one of the "jewels" of the city, and said Franks has been a leader in civic life. "He has served this city with a great deal of integrity," the mayor said

Haidous said the city council had declared a state of emergency in hopes of securing some assistance from the state for the operation, which included 22 police and fire departments from Wayne and surrounding communities.

Before the explosion, a Consumers Energy gas worker was two blocks away investigating the reported gas leak, Dodd said.

"In the course of that investigation, the building down the road here exploded," Dodd said.

Zech said he felt the explosion two miles from the scene.

"There was a large thump," he said.

"We don't know at this time what caused the incident this morning," Dodd said Wednesday night, but added that the utility will work with the state Public Service Commission in investigating.