Sun, Dec 28, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Death toll rises in Ukraine apartment blast

BURIED: The explosion caused the entire central section of the building to come down, while media reported that the remnants of the structure would be torn down

AP , KIEV

Ukrainian rescue workers search through the rubble after an explosion in the city of Yevpatoriya, about 750km south of Kiev, Ukraine, on Thursday.

PHOTO: EPA

Rescue workers were combing through piles of concrete and glass in an ongoing search for survivors from an apartment building explosion in southern Ukraine, but authorities said hope was waning as the death toll climbed to 27.

Salvage teams had pulled 21 people out alive from the rubble by Friday night, two days after the five-story building collapsed in the Crimean peninsula resort of Yevpatoriya.

It was unclear if other victims could still be buried in the wreckage. Authorities said 62 people were registered as living in the destroyed apartments, but could not say how many were in the building when the blast occurred on Wednesday night.

Ukraine held a day of national mourning on Friday, with flags across the country lowered to half-mast. Entertainment events were canceled.

Rescuers were using a construction crane to remove larger concrete blocks from the site, and were falling silent intermittently to listen for any cries of help.

Television footage showed rescuers on Thursday pulling out a man, awake and alert but with bruises on his face, as rescue colleagues applauded.

But finding others alive after two nights of temperatures at minus 6°C was increasingly unlikely, said spokesman Volodymyr Ivanov of the Crimean branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry.

“There is very little hope,” he said.

The explosion caused the entire central section of the building to come down, exposing apartments on either side. As of Friday evening, 27 bodies had been recovered, including two children, officials said.

Officials were considering several causes for the blast, including the explosion of oxygen canisters in the basement, Ivanov said. Neglect of safety precautions has led to frequent explosions in apartment buildings and public facilities in the ex-Soviet nations.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko were in Yevpatoriya on Thursday to inspect rescue efforts and talk to survivors. Tymoshenko said survivors would be given free housing before year’s end.

Yushchenko thanked Russia for offering to send naval personnel to help with the rescue, but said they were not needed.

Russia’s NTV television reported that the remnants of the building would soon be torn down due to safety concerns.

“We renovated the whole place, we installed new windows, and to leave it all?” resident Ivan Velnus said, struggling to hold back tears.

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