By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV , Associated Press
MOSCOW (AP) — At least four people died Monday when part of a 10-story apartment building collapsed in Russia’s Ural Mountains region, and hundreds of rescuers searched for survivors under the rubble in the frigid weather.
The nation’s top investigative agency, the Investigative Committee, said an explosion triggered by a gas leak apparently caused the collapse in the industrial city of Magnitogorsk. It happened before dawn when most residents were still asleep on New Year’s Eve.
Authorities said five people were hospitalized with injuries and 35 others remained unaccounted for. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the accident site about 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) southeast of Moscow and went to a local hospital where injured residents were taken.
Nearly 1,400 rescuers searched for people who might be buried under building debris in temperatures of -17 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit). The overnight forecast called for temperatures to plunge to -24 degrees Celsius (-17 F) overnight.
Emergency officials said they were racing against time since the frigid weather reduced the chances of finding anyone alive. They deployed powerful heaters to raise temperatures under the debris.
“We must work as quickly as we can as temperatures don’t give us any time to linger,” Deputy Emergency Minister Pavel Baryshev said during a conference call with local officials.
Local authorities initially said 68 people registered as residents in the collapsed section of the building were missing, but later tracked down some of them.
The Russian Emergency Ministry later said that 35 people remained unaccounted for, and it wasn’t clear if they were in the building when it collapsed.
The regional governor, Boris Dubrovsky, told Putin that authorities published the missing persons list in the hope they were somewhere else when the explosion happened and would report their whereabouts.
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.