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Blast in Russian Apartments Kills 3

March 16, 2004|From Associated Press

MOSCOW — An explosion blamed on a natural gas leak destroyed part of a nine-story apartment building in northern Russia early today, killing at least three people and leaving dozens trapped, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.

The blast also injured nine people, said Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Marina Ryklina. About 70 people were believed under the rubble.

Ryklina and a ministry duty officer in Arkhangelsk, about 600 miles north of Moscow, said a gas leak was the likely cause of the blast, though other causes had not been ruled out.

Russia has been on edge after a series of terrorist attacks blamed on Chechen rebels, including blasts that destroyed apartment buildings in Moscow and two other cities in fall 1999.

The Itar-Tass news agency quoted an unnamed Arkhangelsk gas service official as saying that the blast might have been a terrorist act. However, city fire service official Alexei Semyonov told reporters at the scene that there was a strong smell of gas at the blast site and that gas leaks had been reported in other Arkhangelsk buildings overnight.

Neglect of safety precautions has led to frequent gas explosions in Russian apartment buildings and public facilities.

Russian state television showed footage of the building, from which a section on one end had sheared off. Rescue crews clambered over the debris, using power saws to cut through piles of building materials as cranes lifted off the biggest beams.

A fire broke out after the building section collapsed, the Interfax news agency reported.

There were 36 apartments in the affected section of the building, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.

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