Suspected Gas Explosion in Russia Kills at Least 3

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At least four people died Monday when sections of an apartment building collapsed after an apparent gas explosion in Russia's Ural Mountains region, officials said, and hundreds of rescuers are searching for survivors under the debris.

The emergencies ministry said on its web site that the section of the building could have collapsed due to a natural gas blast.

President Vladimir Putin rushed to the Urals city of Magnitogorsk, where the blast left hundreds of residents homeless in freezing temperatures on New Year's Eve - the biggest holiday of the year in Russian Federation.

"As of 9.50 a.m. (4:50 GMT) six people have been pulled out of the rubble, three died, three were injured, including a child", the statement said.

Temperatures in the industrial city were expected to reach -23 Celsius on New Year's night.

Officials said four people were confirmed dead and five had been taken to hospital, but that up to 40 could still be trapped under the rubble.

Local resident Anna Koroleva told Echo of Moscow radio that the explosion shattered windows of nearby buildings. President Vladimir Putin arrived in the city to oversee the rescue efforts.

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.

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

Dubrovsky said later that some apartments were leased and in general, 120 people, were housed in the collapsed part of the building.