13 dead in Ukraine gas blast

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The Independent Online

An explosion tore through an apartment building in southern Ukraine, killing at least 13 people and leaving up to 24 trapped under the rubble, an emergency official said today.

The blast was caused by a suspected gas leak, leveled part of the five-floor building in the Crimea peninsula resort of Yevpatoriya and destroyed 35 apartments, said Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Ihor Krol. Children were among the dead, he said.

Russian television reported that those trapped under the rubble made calls to relatives on their cellphones pleading for a quick rescue after the blast on Wednesday evening.

"There was a loud bang, and we rushed out and saw half of the building was missing," witness Sergei Yurchenko told Russian state television Channel One. "There were screams, and a child was crying."

Krol said that 21 people had been rescued, four of whom were hospitalized.

President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko were flying to Yevpatoriya, according to their respective Web sites.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev offered to send naval personnel from Russia's nearby Black Sea fleet, stationed at the Ukrainian port city of Sevastopol, to help in the rescue attempt, a Kremlin spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity.

The explosion hit at around 9.45pm local time, when most of the destroyed section's 62 registered inhabitants would have been home, Krol said.

Ukrainian state television pictures showed military rescuers searching for survivors among the mounds of concrete and glass. A middle section of the building was missing, and apartments on either side had their walls torn down and were exposed.

Krol said up to 700 rescuers were at the scene sifting through the rubble. Every hour they fell silent to listen for possible cries for help, he said.

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