TOKYO - The chief of a Japanese real estate firm apologised on Tuesday (Dec 18), admitting that his employees had caused an explosion that injured 42 and collapsed a building in Sapporo on the northernmost island of Hokkaido.
The two-storey wooden building, which housed an izakaya - a bar-cum-eatery - called Umi Sakura, a clinic and a real estate firm, collapsed in the blast that occurred at about 8.30pm (7.30pm in Singapore) on Sunday. The fire took six hours to put out, reports said.
The force of the explosion shattered glass windows in at least 20 buildings, some as far as 100m away, and damaged at least 26 vehicles.
Mr Taiki Sato, the president of Apamanshop Leasing Hokkaido, told a nationally televised news conference that two of his employees had emptied about 120 spray cans of deodoriser for disposal.
The deodoriser is used to remove odours at properties managed by the company. The employees had been emptying the aerosol cans in a bid to reduce the office inventory before renovations that were scheduled to start on Tuesday. As many as 200 spray cans had been kept at the office.
Japanese media cited police sources as saying that all the windows and doors of the office were closed, and the fumes built up for hours in the office. The explosion occurred when an employee switched on a water heater.
"We want to offer our most sincere apologies to those who were injured in the explosion, as well as those who sustained damage to their property," Mr Sato said, offering a deep bow in contrition.
Nobody died in the blast. The 42 injured were 19 males and 23 females, with the youngest just one year old. Only one - a 33-year-old employee of the real estate firm - was seriously injured.
The explosion caused a blackout in the building, and a fire that spread within minutes obstructed the stairway of the izakaya.
This forced several patrons and employees who were on the upper floor to jump from the second-storey window, moments before the izakaya collapsed on its side.
"If the izakaya had not collapsed, all of us who were remaining would have been burnt to death," Kyodo News Agency cited a 49-year-old customer as saying.