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2 inmates killed in Fla. jail explosion

Flooded facility’s interior leveled by apparent gas blast

Investigators looked at the damage caused by an explosion at Escambia County jail in Pensacola, Fla., on Thursday.

Michael Spooneybarger/Reuters

Investigators looked at the damage caused by an explosion at Escambia County jail in Pensacola, Fla., on Thursday.

PENSACOLA, Fla. — The jail already had 2 feet of water in the basement from the record-setting rains when an apparent gas explosion leveled the inside of the building, killing two inmates and injuring 184 other people, officials said Thursday.

In the rubble and chaos, inmates were trapped and had to be rescued. Others were treated for their injuries in the parking lot. In all, 600 inmates rushed out of the jail. The injured were taken by bus to hospitals while the others were sent to nearby jails.

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Authorities lost track of three inmates in the confusion, but by late afternoon, they were confident everyone was accounted for.

Inmate Monique Barnes said in a telephone interview that she was knocked off her fourth-floor bunk.

‘‘The explosion shook us so hard it was like we were in an earthquake,’’ Barnes said. ‘‘It was like a movie, a horrible, horrible movie.’’

Pieces of glass, brick, and inmates’ flip-flops were strewn about on the ground outside the jail. The front of the building appeared bowed, with cracks throughout.

Barnes, who spoke to the Associated Press after she was taken to another jail, said she and other inmates complained of smelling gas before the blast; some had reported headaches.

County spokesman Bill Pearson said they didn’t receive any 911 calls about gas nor did they have any reports of an odor.

Investigators said it could take days to determine what caused the explosion. They were having a hard time getting to the epicenter in the back of the building because there was so much damage.

More than 15 inches of rain fell on Pensacola on Tuesday, the rainiest single day since forecasters started keeping records in 1880.

Neighborhoods were flooded and hundreds of people had to be rescued from homes and cars.

The jail was running on generator power after the flooding.

Pearson said 184 people were taken to hospitals and only two inmates and one corrections officer were still there Thursday afternoon.

About 200 men and 400 women were in the building. Barnes said during the evacuation, hundreds of inmates and corrections officers had to use one stairwell, ‘‘everyone pushing and bleeding.’’

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