A JJ's restaurant hostess said she thought she was going to die when an explosion rocked her restaurant Tuesday night, and she is frantic with fear for a missing friend.
"I thought I was going to die. Honestly, I thought I was trapped in there," said Deidre Estes, who has been working at JJ's for 14 years.
Estes said crews had been out investigating a strong gas odor in the area. She said just before 6 p.m. they suggested shutting down the restaurant. As a result, no patrons were inside the restaurant at the time of the explosion, but employees weren't frantically trying to leave either.
"They said, 'Well, because of the smell in here, you guys should really leave,' so that's why we were packing up to leave. They didn't make it sound like you need to get out this second, so we were kind of taking our time, putting things away, locking up the register and then, boom! And everything was black."
Estes said the explosion occurred just a matter of minutes after the last patron left. She was left stunned as debris rained down around her.
"I saw the flames, and I was scared I was going to burn up. And then with all my might, I got this strength and lifted the rubble off," she recalled.
In her panic, she screamed over and over for help.
She said her chef tried to get to her but couldn't. The chef suffered critical injuries.
"To the right of me I saw one of the waiters. And he took my hand and just with all my might I lifted up, I don't know if it was a ceiling tile or walls or what," she said. "And we just made our way through the rubble and just climbed out."
But getting out of the rubble was difficult.
"It was pitch black in there. You couldn't see anything," she said. "And finally I saw a little glimpse of light, so we just followed that and I just kept saying, 'Don't let go of my hand.'"
Another hostess who was working at the time is missing, and Estes is frantic with worry about her.
A man is also missing. Police said cadaver dogs have not located any bodies in the remains of the demolished building, but searchers will return at daybreak Wednesday.
KCTV5's Alan Shope interviewed Estes after she was treated at St. Luke's Medical Center for her injuries.
Estes later posted on Facebook about her ordeal.
"I am so grateful to be alive! I was inside when it happened. Thank you Drew Latourneau for pulling me out of the rubble. Thanks also to the nice neighborhood girl who drove Lindsay and me to the hospital. This is a tragedy I will never forget. Prayers please for me friend Megan, who is still missing," she said.
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322 Shipyard Boulevard