Blast rips through eatery in Koriyama, killing 1, injuring 19 others

An explosion ripped through a restaurant in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Koriyama on July 30, killing one man and injuring at least 19 other people, some seriously. The blast occurred around 8:55 a.m. at the Koriyama Shin-sakura-dori outlet of a "shabu-shabu onyasai" restaurant chain offering thinly sliced beef with steamed vegetables in a hot pot. The victim was identified as Hiroshi Furukawa, 50, from Sendai in neighboring Miyagi Prefecture who was engaged in renovation work inside the restaurant, according to local police and firefighters. The one-story steel-frame restaurant building was largely destroyed, leaving only its framework standing. The blast affected a wide swath of the area, shattering windowpanes, ripping away roofs and walls, and causing other extensive damage to businesses, houses, hospitals and schools in the neighborhood. Police and firefighters are investigating the accident in detail on suspicion a gas leak was responsible. ■ Police suspect professional negligence The restaurant, closed since April amid the coronavirus epidemic, began interior renovations on July 21 ahead of reopening scheduled for August 3, according to prefectural police headquarters and REINS International Inc., a Yokohama-based operator of the shabu-shabu restaurant chain. Furukawa, who was at the scene when the explosion hit, was an on-site supervisor dispatched by a contractor, Konishi Zokei Co., based in Sendai. REINS and other parties concerned said Furukawa had worked on the restaurant project the day before with other workers, including a subcontractor. They were increasing the number of power outlets to replace a malfunctioning gas stove with an electric type in the kitchen. The restaurant had six propane gas cylinders in place along the outside wall, with some damaged after the blast, but the main valve had been shut off, according to REINS. Koriyama Police Station and Koriyama Fire Department inspected the scene on July 31 in the belief that gas may have filled the eatery and ignited. Police are set to continue probing the cause and other details, including into suspected professional negligence resulting in death and injury, investigative sources said. Many of the 19 injured people are nearby residents and workers at local businesses, according to firefighters. Two were seriously hurt, both women in their 40s. Sustaining minor injuries were 13 men and four women. The scene of the blast is on an urban street about 3.5 kilometers west of JR Koriyama Station. Many stores and offices line the municipal road commonly known as Shin-sakura-dori. The explosion caused extensive damage, including to a high school and a kindergarten, both attached to Koriyama Women's University, and to Kuwano Kyoritsu Hospital as well as houses and offices, all of which had windows shattered. The Shin-sakura-dori branch of Toho Bank, standing across the street from the restaurant, will be closed for the moment due to damage sustained in the blast. Other affected buildings include the Kaisei branch of Fukushima Bank. Police and other authorities declared the explosion area off-limits temporarily, urging people in the neighborhood to evacuate elsewhere. The Koriyama city office opened a nearby community hall for affected residents to use as a shelter. Tohoku Electric Power Co. briefly suspended power supply to 425 houses in the area on an emergency basis for safety reasons. Photo: "Shabu-shabu onyasai" restaurant chain's Koriyama Shin-sakura-dori outlet (center) has only its skeleton of framework left standing after an explosion. In the far distance on the right is Mainichi Minpo Kuwano sales center. (Photo taken around 11:40 a.m. on July 30 in the neighborhood of 2-chome Shima, Koriyama city) (Translated by Kyodo News)