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4 Apr, 2008 18:14

Three dead after Moscow apartment blast

Three people are confirmed dead after a powerful explosion ripped through an apartment building in the north-east of Moscow. The blast occurred on the 11th floor of the 22-storey building on Academic Korolyov street at around 7pm local time.

A criminal case has been launched into the incident, but police believe the mishandling of gas-welding equipment may have caused the blast, as does the Mayor of Moscow, Yury Luzhkov.

“This building does not have a central gas supply – the kitchen equipment is all electric. There's been repair work going on in one of the flats. We have now determined the epicentre of this explosion, which was the toilet where welding work was taking place, and the explosion was quite powerful,” the Mayor said.

Mayor Luzhkov said that as soon as they get the final result as to what caused this explosion, they will start reconstruction.

“There's always a question of whether terrorism is behind such events, I can assure you it is not. It is most likely caused by violations during repair work, including welding work,” he said.

Luzhkov says restoration work will take up to three weeks.

The blast sparked a fire which then spread to the tenth and the twelfth floors causing the collapse of ceilings and walls. Four apartments were gutted.

“Several side panels collapsed, some of them fell out on cars parked near the house. The building itself is steady, the supporting structures have not been affected,” Luzhkov said.

Sixteen people were rescued from the building, among them a 14-year-old boy who was injured but is reported to be in a satisfactory condition. He's been undergoing medical treatment.

Dozens of people were evacuated from the building and are now in a nearby school.

Twenty fire engines and ten ambulances took part in the rescue operation. Emergency services cut power supplies to the building to give rescuers safe access.