Explosion at Tokyo Spa

A BOILER in a women's spa in central Tokyo exploded yesterday, killing three women and injuring at least three.

The injured were believed to be two employees and a passer-by, firefighters said.

The afternoon explosion was caused by a malfunction in the boiler in the one-storey annexe of the popular Shiespa bathhouse, said a police official, Junko Tada.

Shiespa has a natural hot spring, an open-air bath, a sauna and salon, according to its website.

The main building did not sustain major damage, but was being examined by officials.

After the flames had been extinguished, fire officials swarmed the blasted shell of the building, which was destroyed except for its mangled iron frame. Debris was blown in to the street and against neighbouring apartment blocks, shattering windows.

'I heard a sudden huge boom. When I jumped outside I saw a plume of smoke,' said Miki Yamagishi, a shop assistant at a nearby convenience store. About 100 rescuers used search dogs to scan the debris. Two other passers-by were slightly hurt, according to the broadcaster Nippon TV.

The bathhouse was popular, providing relaxation equipment such as bedrock baths, and a bar offering water from all over the world.

The spa is 500 metres west of J.R. Shibuya railway station, close to the department store Tokyu Hands and the Bunkamura theatre complex.