Japan explosion: dozens injured as blast destroys Sapporo restaurant

A large explosion and fire has wrecked a restaurant in the northern Japanesecity of Sapporo, injuring more than 40 people, including children.

Pictures from the scene following the blast on Sunday evening showed firefighters searching the building which appeared to have been virtually demolished.

Some accounts suggested the number of casualties could rise sharply.

The Japan Times said the restaurant is in the Hiragishi district of Sapporo, which is the largest city on the northern island of Hokkaido.

Footage showed grey smoke billowing from the restaurant as dozens of firefighters poured water onto the building. The Jiji news agency said children had been injured in the blast.

Windows on an apartment building next door were broken, and cars parked outside were partially covered with debris that had fallen on them.

A witness told NHK that he smelled gas after the sound of an explosion. The broadcaster said the district office was to set up a shelter for neighbours of the restaurant to stay overnight so they could escape the smoke.

The cause of the blast was being investigated.