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No cracks detected in gas pipes in gutted building

An inspection detected no cracks in gas pipes in a building in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward ...

An inspection detected no cracks in gas pipes in a building in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward which was gutted in a fatal fire early Saturday, ruling out the possibility that the fire was caused by a gas leak, officials of Tokyo Gas Co. said Monday.

The officials who inspected the four-story Myojo 56 Building in Shinjuku's Kabukicho entertainment district also said the pipes were not corroded and they found no irregularities other than a gas meter which was detached from a badly damaged gas pipe.

The cause of the fire, which killed 44 people and injured three others, remains unknown and police suspect it may have been deliberately set.

The gas meter was found on the floor below the pipe during Saturday's investigation, but it is still not known whether a blast caused by the fire detached the gas meter or whether it was detached in some other manner, investigative sources said.

The police are probing the cause of the gas meter's detachment in connection with the arson suspicion.

Investigators also said they plan to conduct a test in the near future to reenact the fatal fire in a bid to elucidate the mechanisms which caused such massive damage.

Police investigations have revealed that a video mahjong game parlor on the third floor of the building, where the fire is believed to have started, was having trouble with a group of gangsters, the sources said.

The police will further question officials of the parlor ''Mahjong Ikkyu'' to find out what kind of trouble it had with the gangsters, they said.

The Tokyo Fire Department also said Monday there is a possibility that fire alarms in the third floor ceiling did not function following a renovation.

The investigators are questioning the owner of the building and the tenant's employees on suspicion of taking insufficient fire prevention measures, the sources said.

The police and firefighters found a huge amount of cinders in the elevator area on the third floor, which sustained the most damage. A number of combustibles including lockers and boxes were placed on the staircase between the third and fourth floors, the fire department said.

Most of the 44 people died from carbon monoxide poisoning as they inhaled smoke, which is believed to have quickly spread to the mahjong parlor and an adult entertainment bar on the fourth floor. The fire apparently started near the elevator hall and burned articles on the stairway, the sources said.

A parlor employee who escaped the fire by jumping out a window told the police that a mass of black smoke poured into the parlor from the elevator area when he opened the connecting door, the sources said.

The fire department said fire fighters found 16 victims on the third floor and 28 on the fourth floor during their rescue operation.

The last casualty of the 44 was identified Monday as Yoshiyuki Shimizu, 46, of Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture.