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2 dead, 100 injured in gas explosion at Florida jail

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    A portion of the Escambia County jail collapsed late Wednesday night after what authorities are calling a gas explosion in the jail's booking center. (WAGA)

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    May 1, 2014: Police and emergency vehicles respond to a gas explosion at the Escambia County jail booking facility in Pensacola, Fla. (Courtesy Kati Weis)

An explosion Wednesday night ripped through a Florida Panhandle jail's booking facility, killing two inmates and injuring up to 150 inmates and guards.

The explosion occurred around 11:30 p.m. local time Wednesday in Escambia County jail's booking facility and caused the building to partially collapse, Kathleen Castro, the county's public information manager, said.

"The explosion shook us so hard it was like we were in an earthquake," Monique Barnes, an inmate who said she was knocked off her fourth-floor bunk, told The Associated Press by phone. "It was like a movie, a horrible, horrible movie."

Barnes, who spoke to AP after she was taken to another jail, said she and other inmates complained of smelling gas ahead of the blast, and some reported headaches.

About 600 inmates were in the building at the time, she said. There has been major flooding in the area and authorities have said there is a link between the explosion and the recent flooding in the area. 

The injured were brought to hospitals and the uninjured inmates were brought to jails in neighboring counties, Castro said. Authorities said some of the inmates were released from hospitals.

Family members of inmates and officers gathered outside the jail, claiming authorities were slow to provide them with information about their loved ones.

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan wouldn't comment on whether inmates complained about gas. He said three inmates were unaccounted for and the jail was almost completely destroyed.

"Where is our family members? We don’t know if they dead or alive," family member Eva Stewart told WALA-TV. "It’s really frustrating. I can't sleep not knowing if my child's OK. I got other family members in there too; I don't know if they're OK."

Two nearby hospitals confirmed to WALA that they had admitted a total of 81 patients, none of whom had life-threatening injuries.

Sacred Heart Hospital treated 31 patients with mostly neck and back injuries, spokeswoman Vicki Brooks said. West Florida Hospital treated 37 inmates in the emergency room, and all have been released into the custody of the Escambia County Sheriff's Office, spokesman Kendrick Doidge said.

Fifty patients were taken to Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, with 12 treated and released by Thursday morning, spokeswoman Liz Branch said. At Gulf Breeze Hospital, 13 of the 31 patients from the explosion were treated and released.

The names of the two people killed in the explosion weren't immediately released.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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