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Police: Number of people missing still unknown after deadly Md. apartment explosion

One of the Flower Branch apartment buildings in Silver Spring devastated by an explosion and fire. (Photo courtesy Peter Piringer/Montgomery County Fire & Rescue)

WASHINGTON — The number of people missing remains unknown after a deadly explosion and three-alarm fire ripped through an apartment complex in Silver Spring, Maryland, late Wednesday night, Montgomery County officials said Thursday evening. Officials continued to press for the public’s help in locating people staying in the complex.

Earlier in the day, crews recovered two bodies from the ruins of the Flower Branch Apartments on Piney Branch Road.

Police and fire crews “are still working to identify the missing people from this event,” said Montgomery County Police Assistant Chief Russ Hamill during the news conference. “Throughout the day, we have located many individuals that were originally thought to be missing. We will continue to work diligently at these efforts over the coming days.”

Hamill encouraged members of the public with information about the whereabouts of building residents or the incident itself to contact police by using the county’s 311 system or by calling 240-777-0311.

Family members can also check up on relatives who may have been affected by the fire at “reunification centers” at the nearby Long Branch Community Center and the Rolling Terrace Elementary School in Takoma Park. About 100 residents of the apartment complex were displaced by the fire, officials said.

The two dead victims have not yet been identified and are awaiting autopsies by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Maryland, Hamill said. Police were not able to tell the ages of the two victims, he said. “The condition after the fire did not enable us to make out that type of identification,” Hamill added.

Along with the number of people from the building still unaccounted for, Hamill said police still have no indication of what caused the explosion or the fire. Montgomery County police are working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on the investigation.

Police and fire crews were preparing Thursday evening to suspend operations for the night at the apartment complex, where one of the buildings had partially collapsed. Hamill said it would have been too dangerous to continue the investigation through the night. Montgomery County police are fencing off the area and officers will be posted there throughout the night, he said.

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