4 dead in apartment collapse, apparent gas explosion

MOSCOW (AP) — At least four people died Monday when an apartment building’s section collapsed after an apparent gas explosion in Russia’s Ural Mountains region, and hundreds of rescuers searched for survivors under the rubble in the frigid weather.

Authorities said five people were hospitalized with injuries, and 35 other residents remained unaccounted for in the accident in Magnitogorsk, a city of 400,000 about 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) southeast of Moscow. President Vladimir Putin arrived in the city to oversee the rescue efforts.

The nation’s top investigative agency, the Investigative Committee, said the collapse of a section of the ten-storey building was apparently caused by a gas leak. It happened before dawn when most residents were still asleep on the New Year’s Eve.

Nearly 1,400 rescuers were searching for those who could have been buried under debris in temperatures of -17 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit), which are forecast to plunge to -24 degrees Celsius (-17 degrees Fahrenheit) overnight.

Emergency officials admitted that they were racing against time as the frigid weather reduces the chances to find anyone alive.

Local authorities initially said 68 of those registered in the collapsed section of the building were unaccounted for, but later tracked down some of them.

The Emergency Ministry later said that 35 people are still missing, and it wasn’t clear if they were in the building when it collapsed.

Emergency workers have evacuated residents of nearby sections of the building, fearing they could also tumble down.

Gas explosions in Russian homes and businesses are common, and they are usually blamed on neglect of safety rules or poor maintenance.

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