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Seven dead, dozens missing in Russia after gas explosion destroys block of flats

  • Blast demolished a whole section of a 12-floor building in the industrial city of Magnitogorsk, leaving residents without a home in sub-zero temperatures
PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 December, 2018, 4:54pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 January, 2019, 4:46am

Rescuers hunted for survivors on Monday after a gas explosion tore through a high-rise residential building in central Russia, killing at least seven people and leaving several dozen unaccounted for.

President Vladimir Putin rushed to the Urals city of Magnitogorsk, where the blast left hundreds of residents homeless in freezing temperatures on New Year’s Eve – the biggest holiday of the year in Russia.

National television showed rescuers combing through mangled heaps of concrete and metal in temperatures of minus 18 degrees Celsius (minus 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

A large section of the building collapsed after the explosion around 6:00am local time at the high-rise in the industrial city of Magnitogorsk, nearly 1,700km (1,050 miles) east of Moscow in the Ural Mountains.

Officials said seven people were confirmed dead.

Emergencies Minister Yevgeny Zinichev said at a meeting with Putin there were “presumably between 36 and 40 people under the rubble” as of Monday evening, agencies reported.

Regional governor Boris Dubrovsky said seven children were among the missing.

After reporting four deaths earlier in the day, Zinichev said another three bodies had been discovered.

“I went out to have a cigarette at quarter to six,” a local man told Russian television. “There was a blast and a wave of fire … then people started running out.”

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Other witnesses said the explosion was strong enough to shatter the windows of nearby buildings.

Russian television showed a grim-looking Putin in a black winter jacket meeting with local officials. He was also shown wearing a white coat and visiting a victim in hospital.

Senior officials, including the emergencies and health ministers, flew to Magnitogorsk to oversee the rescue operation.

Authorities said rescue teams were to work through the night, with local temperatures expected to plunge to minus 23 degrees Celsius (minus 9 degrees Fahrenheit).

Officials warned that two more sections of the Soviet-era high-rise on Karl Marx Street were in danger of collapsing.

Located in the mineral-rich southern Urals region, Magnitogorsk, with a population of more than 400,000 people, is home to one of the country’s largest steel producers.

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The high-rise built in 1973 was home to around 1,100 people. Residents were evacuated to a nearby school.

Volunteers offered money, clothing and essentials to the victims, and some said they were ready to provide temporary shelter to those in need.

Dubrovsky, the local governor, said authorities planned to buy flats for people who had lost their homes.

Staff from the local Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works (MMK), one of the country’s largest steelmakers, took part in the rescue operation.

Billionaire Viktor Rashnikov, who controls the plant, called on city residents to help the victims.

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“This is our common tragedy and pain,” he said, adding that MMK would provide financial help to those in need.

Investigators opened a criminal probe into the blast, with the FSB security service confirming that it had been the result of a gas explosion.

Additional reporting by Reuters