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San Diego Hotel Under Construction Damaged by Blast

"It shook the whole building like a bomb," Matt McBride said. The general manager of the Tin Fish bar, McBride was setting up an outdoor patio Monday afternoon when the sudden blast cracked about 150 yards away at the unfinished downtown Hilton hotel that injured 14 construction workers and damaged four floors.

McBride said he and other bar employees froze as they saw smoke pour out of the building.

"The reverb was what scared us," McBride said. "Everybody was saying bomb, bomb, bomb, terrorist, terrorist, terrorist."

Bruce Ragland, who runs an entry gate at the Petco Park baseball stadium about 200 yards from the hotel, said "it was just like watching a Bruce Willis movie, like you know, 'Die Hard."'

Ragland said he was looking right at the building when the explosion blew through two sides and set off a shock wave.

The blast was an apparent accident, the result of "some sort of mechanical failure or gas explosion," said San Diego Deputy Fire-Rescue Chief Perry Peake.

"We want to rule out all possibilities before making an official report, but we're pretty confident that's how it's going to come out," he said.

Five workers were in critical condition among the 14 injured.

Three of those were in a hospital burn unit and eight other victims had injuries that ranged from burns to impacts of flying debris, said fire spokesman Maurice Luque.

The building did not burn, however.

UCSD Medical Center was treating 10 injured, said Dr. Irving Jacoby, attending emergency room physician. Three were in the burn unit, one with burns over 35 percent of his body.

"They talked about a bright light and an intense heat," said Dr. Bruce Potenza of the hospital's burn unit.

By late Monday, six of the 10 at UCSD had been released, said hospital spokeswoman Kimberly Edwards. Another was stable and in good condition, she said. The three burned victims were in induced comas, Edwards said.

The blast happened in a "mechanical area" of the building containing gas, electric and other utilities, Peake said.

The blast damaged floors four through seven of the building, Mayor Jerry Sanders said.

The hotel near the San Diego Convention Center showed serious damage and debris littered a driveway beneath one corner of the structure. Facade material hung from the structure, drapes dangled out windows, and a large equipment room with tanks and pipes was left exposed.

More than 400 construction workers were at the site at the time of the blast Monday afternoon, Sanders said.

The site later was surrounded by firefighters and utility crews, and a truck with the markings of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrived.

The 30-story Hilton San Diego Bayfront hotel was scheduled to open in December, according to Hilton's Web site. It will have 1,190 rooms and more than 165,000 square feet of meeting space.

Hilton Hotels Corp. has not taken possession of the hotel from the builder, Hensel Phelps Construction Co., said Karima Zaki, the hotel's vice president for new development. She said it was too early to know whether the hotel will open on schedule.

Hensel Phelps officials did not immediately respond to questions sent by e-mail.

As scheduled, the Padres baseball team hosted the St. Louis Cardinals Monday night at Petco Park.

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