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Blast hits San Diego hotel, illegal drug lab suspected

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - An explosion from a suspected illegal drug lab blew out walls and windows at a San Diego hotel just across a channel from the Sea World marine animal park on Wednesday, wounding three people, one of them critically, authorities said.

The three people hurt in the blast were a 22-year-old man and a 20-year-old woman in a room where drug activity was suspected and another man in a room next door, said San Diego Fire Department spokesman Maurice Luque. They were all hospitalized, he said.

In the room where the blast occurred, authorities found cannisters of butane the occupants were using to extract oil from hashish. The man in the room lit a cigarette, which set off the flash explosion, Luque said.

The blast blew out walls and windows in that room and the rooms on each side of it, officials said.

San Diego police Lieutenant Joseph Ramos said the explosion could have been more damaging if it had ignited the numerous cannisters of butane sitting in boxes in the room.

Hotel guest Julie Jordan, 30, who was staying in a nearby room with her friend's baby, said she felt as if "the entire building jumped."

"I thought it was an earthquake," she said. "People were screaming and running and there was a man burned from head to toe, his skin was falling off. The smell was nauseating."

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents were called to the mid-range Heritage Inn to investigate the possibility the explosion came from a illegal drug lab, said DEA spokeswoman Amy Roderick.

Roderick said earlier that indications from authorities at the scene were that it might have been a meth lab, but a later assessment from police and fire officials suggested the drug involved was hashish.

The hotel, which markets itself to vacationers visiting Sea World other California attractions, is located in the Midway area of San Diego, which is also near the city's airport and popular beaches.

(Reporting by Marty Graham, Alex Dobuzinskis, Tim Gaynor and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Phil Berlowitz and Andre Grenon)

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