Death toll rises in Ukraine apartment blast

Rescue workers are continuing to search for survivors after an explosion wrecked an apartment block in Southern Ukraine. So far, 24 people have been confirmed dead and 21 others have been rescued.

Dozens are still believed to be trapped under the rubble.

The explosion occurred in a five-storey block at around 10pm on Wednesday in the Crimean city of Yevpatoria. The blast, believed to have been caused by exploding oxygen tanks in the basement of the apartment building, destroyed around 35 apartments.

Over 600 military and emergency personnel are working at the site. Medical and psychological help is being provided to the victims. Local authorities have been ordered to provide residents of the block with temporary dwellings.

A special governmental commission headed by Ukraine’s First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Turchinov has been sent to Yevpatoria.

President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko have also flown to the city.

President Yushchenko has refused help from the Russian side saying he is “grateful for every kind move in this hard time” but there is no shortage of professional rescuers or equipment.

Earlier Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev offered his condolences to President Yushchenko in connection with the accident, and said if necessary, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet elements in Yevpatoria are ready to assist in saving the victims.

Yushchenko has declared Friday a day of mourning in Ukraine. Flags will be flown at half-mast throughout the country. All entertainment programmes and contests will be cancelled, and TV and radio schedules will undergo corresponding changes.

And Premier Minister Timoshenko promised that all those who lost their apartments as a result of the blast, “will be living in new flats before the year ends.”

She also said that the families of those killed by the explosion will get compensation of about $US 12,800 for each victim.