Thursday, December 25, 2008

At least 27 people, including three children, have been killed and about twenty are still missing after a Wednesday gas explosion in an apartment building in the Ukrainian town of Yevpatoria, Crimea. Five injured are treated in local hospitals, one of them in a serious condition.

According to Ukrainian Emergency Situations Ministry, the blast occurred at about 9:45 p.m local time on Wednesday, destroying 35 apartments of a five-storey post-Soviet block. The rescuers, in the number of 565, managed to pull out alive 21 residents of the building; about twenty people are still unaccounted for, the Ministry spokesmen said. The search was regularly suspended so the rescuers could hear voices of victims still trapped under the rubble, the AFP reports.

Olexander Mazilin, head of the regional branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry, said that 26 out of 27 bodies have been identified so far. He told the journalists that entire families, including one family of five, were among the dead. Eduard Grivkovsky, the Crimea’s deputy prime minister, told the reporters that there are likely more casualties, as the rescuers were working through the rubble of the third floor to get to the lower floors and basement.

According to the outcome of the government experts, the blast was caused by a leak of oxygen; the gas is reported to have been stored in cylinders in the building’s basement. Yulia Tymoshenko, the Ukrainian Prime Minister, however, told the journalists that a certain information about the content of the cylinders, which is to be oxygen or acetylene, will be revealed only when rescuers get to the basement. “”According to preliminary expert conclusions, there was a workshop in the building’s basement where explosive materials have been used without any kind of permission,” she said. The Ukrainian government has allocated UAH 70 million (about US$ 13.865 million) for work against the effects of the blast. According to the official website of the Prime Minister, the funds will be used to pay peculiarly compensations for lost properties and purchase temporary accommodations for the victims of the blast.

Gas explosions are not rare in the post-Soviet and poorly maintained areas of Ukraine. In 2003 and 2007, such blasts happened in Dnipropetrovsk in the south-central region of the country. In 2003, ten buildings, including a nine-story apartment building, were destroyed after a series of gas blasts; the occurrence resulted in 23 victims. One year ago, a nine-story building was partially destroyed with 15 people dead.