Gas blast destroys flats in Ukraine

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The Independent Online

An explosion ripped through an apartment building in southern Ukraine, killing 19 people. A further 24 people are still unaccounted for, and officials expect the death toll to rise. Twenty-one residents were pulled out alive from the five-storey block in the Black Sea resort of Yevpatoria. The blast, probably caused by canisters of oxygen stored in the basement, flattened all five floors, leaving rubble several metres high strewn with wires, smashed furniture and personal possessions. "As I was walking by, I heard a bang, and then I saw this building crumble," one witness said. Another, who lived opposite the apartment block, said: "We heard a terrible bang. We thought our balcony crashed because of the way the windows vibrated. But when I went on to the balcony I saw smoke from the other side." President Viktor Yushchenko and the Prime Minister, Julia Tymoshenko, set aside their feuding to arrive at the scene together. Mr Yushchenko declared today a national day of mourning. Casualties caused by gas blasts in often crumbling apartment buildings are common occurrences in former Soviet republics, particularly in winter when residents use more heating. Reuters