Eleven feared dead in Austrian gas blast

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The Independent Online
AT LEAST 11 people were feared dead last night after an explosion destroyed an apartment block in Austria.

One person was confirmed dead within hours of the blast, which happened at around 6:30pm in the town of Wilhelmsburg, 30 miles west of Vienna.

Despite a massive rescue effort involving 200 firemen, soldiers, police and sniffer dogs, by midnight last night only one survivor, a woman, had been rescued from the mound of rubble. Fire crews had to amputate both her legs to free her.

It was unclear how many people were in the three-storey building, which contained 12 apartments, when the blast happened. Some reports suggested that the victims had been given the all clear to re-enter the building after an earlier gas alert.

At first, officials estimated that 30 to 40 people might have been buried in the ruins, but Austrian television reported later that many residents had been out of the building.

Later officials revised the estimate of the unacccounted for to ten. However, the precise number of missing remained unclear because rescuers said some non-residents may have been visiting friends in the building.The governor of Lower Austria, Erwin Proll, said that the blast was apparently caused by a hole drilled accidentally into a gas pipe during work to install lightning conductors

When the smell of gas was first noticed, the building and a nearby kindergarten had been evacuated. After repairs, however, residents were allowed to return to their homes. The blast happened about 30 minutes after the "all clear" was sounded, the rescuers said.

"This is a hopeless situation," Mr Proll said. "There are practically no hollow pockets in the mound of rubble."

Reinhard Obermaier, a police spokesman, said: "All of the floors have caved in. We assume for now that there are 30 to 40 people to be recovered from the ruins."