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People were kept away as the fire burned in downtown Nipawin on Friday. ((Courtesy Michael Kipling) )

An explosion and fire rocked the northern Saskatchewan town of Nipawin on Friday, leaving one person dead and injuring at least four others.

At least three buildings in the town's downtown area were destroyed in the massive natural gas explosion around 11 a.m. CT, the RCMP said.

Nipawin Mayor Glen Day said the town has declared a state of emergency.

Health district officials said two of the injured were flown to hospital in Saskatoon and listed in critical condition. One of the other injured had been released and another remained in hospital, officials said Friday afternoon.

Rebecca Street works at a gym damaged in the explosion and said one of their clients was inside a tanning bed when the roof collapsed.

"She had actually got out," she said. "The roof had caved in on the tanning bed and she was lucky she was in the bed. Otherwise, who knows what would have happened to her?"

The blast blew debris all over the downtown. Witnesses said it sounded like an airplane had crashed.

"It's awful," said Arlene Helgason, an owner of the gym. "There's a deep-freeze … that actually blew out into the middle of the street. There's cars that burnt that were parked in front of the buildings, and buildings like a block away have their windows blown out of them."

Hundreds without electricity, phone service

Townspeople say construction crews were demolishing a building near the site of the explosion. SaskEnergy, the province's publicly owned gas utility, was informed shortly before the blast that a gas line had been ruptured, fire officials said.

According to a SaskPower official, 1,800 customers lost electricity. SaskEnergy cut off the gas to the area and late in the afternoon some 300 customers were without gas.

A SaskTel cable melted in the fire, resulting in 1,000 customers being without phone service.

Several blocks around the explosion were evacuated after the blast, which leveled a meat shop and severely damaged two other buildings. The resulting fire also caused extensive damage to the town's hardware store.

"It is exactly the same feeling like I had everyday in Bosnia before I moved to Canada," said Davor Camdzic, who was getting a haircut when it happened. "Explosion, detonation, panic … and stuff like that."

People were evacuated from a two-block area around the scene.

Nipawin, a town of about 4,000 people, is 140 kilometres east of Prince Albert.

With files from the Canadian Press