Search Of Collapsed Building In Russia Ends, With Death Toll At 39
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Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry says the search of the rubble from a partially collapsed apartment building in the city of Magnitorgorsk has ended and that the death toll stands at 39.
The ministry declared the end of the search operation by hundreds of rescue workers on January 3, more than three days after an explosion on New Year's Eve sent a section of the 10-story building in the southern Urals city crashing to the ground.
Officials say the predawn blast on December 31 likely was caused by a gas leak.
"We are confident that there are no more bodies in the building, Deputy Emergency Minister Aleksandr Chupriyan told reporters on January 3. The Emergency Ministry ends its rescue operation.
The bodies of 38 of the 39 dead had been identified, said Chupriyan.
Local officials said earlier that six children were among those confirmed dead. Six people -- including an infant whose rescue has been called a miracle -- were pulled alive from the rubble of the building and hospitalized.
Safar Safarov, Tajikistan's consul-general in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, told RFE/RL on January 3 that four Tajik citizens were among the dead.
Safarov, who is in Magnitogorsk, said they were 24-year-old Rajambo Isoeva and her three young children.
Shuhrat Ulfatov, Isoeva's husband, was found alive in the rubble on December 31 and remains in the hospital in a serious condition, Safarov said, adding that the four bodies would be repatriated to Tajikistan in the coming days.
The rescue operations had been held in the freezing cold with outside temperatures as low as minus 20 degree Celsius.
January 2 was an official day of mourning in Chelyabinsk Oblast, where Magnitogorsk -- an industrial city of some 400,000 people about 1,700 kilometers southeast of Moscow -- is located.
Magnitogorsk residents laid flowers and placed candles at the scene of the tragedy, and some Muscovites also laid flowers at the office for the regional government's representative in the capital.
According to the regional government, the explosion took place at 6:10 a.m. local time on December 31 in a complex of apartment buildings that was built in 1973 and houses some 1,100 people.
The Emergency Situations Ministry said that 26 apartments with 46 residents were destroyed in the collapse. In all, 48 apartments from the third to the 10th floor in the building's central part were damaged by the explosion.
Russian authorities have said since shortly after the collapse that a natural-gas explosion was the most likely cause.
But in a statement issued on January 1, the federal Investigative Committee said the authorities were looking into "all possible causes" but added that no signs of a bomb blast have been found.
Two media outlets had cited unnamed sources as saying that possible traces of explosives were found at the site and that the blast that caused the collapse could have been a terrorist act.
The reports, which could not be independently verified, also linked the building collapse with an incident late on January 1 in which a van caught fire some 3 kilometers from the site, killing three people.
Officials said the fire may have been caused by a gas-canister explosion.
Several deadly apartment-building explosions in Russia in the past 25 years have been blamed on militants from the North Caucasus. Household-gas blasts have also been blamed for many such disasters.
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.