Putin visits victims of high-rise gas blast in central Russia amid rescue operation
Story Code : 769628
Putin flew into the mineral-rich southern Urals city in late afternoon on Monday hours before the country’s New Year’s Eve celebrations, visiting the injured and local officials as well as the site of the incident.
“It is in the character of our people, despite New Year’s festivities, to remember to think of the dead and wounded at this moment,” said grim-looking Putin.
Senior officials, including the emergencies and health ministers, also flew to Magnitogorsk to oversee the rescue operation.
According to Russian RIA news agency, the blast ripped through an apartment building on Monday at about 06:00 a.m. local time in Magnitogorsk, nearly 1,700 kilometers east of Moscow with a population of more than 400,000 people and home to one of the nation’s largest steel producers.
The explosion caused a large section of the high-rise building – built in 1973 and home to some 1,100 residents – to collapse.
National television showed rescue workers struggling to pull out people from under the rubble and evacuating hundreds of the homeless victims to a nearby school in very cold temperatures of -22 Celsius (-8 Fahrenheit).
This is while local officials said that dozens of people could still be trapped under the debris, further warning that two more sections of the building on Karl Marx Street were also in danger of collapsing.
Emergencies Minister Yevgeny Zinichev said at a meeting with Putin that there were “presumably between 36 and 40 people under the rubble” as of Monday evening, according to local press reports.
“We are working carefully because there is a risk that the building will collapse,” Zinichev was quoted as saying.
Staff from the local Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works (MMK), one of the country’s largest steelmakers, took part in the rescue operation.
Billionaire Viktor Rashnikov, who controls the steel plant, called on city residents to help the victims.
Volunteers offered money, clothing and essentials to the victims, and some said they were ready to provide temporary shelter to those in need.
Local Governor Boris Dubrovsky further stated that authorities planned to purchase apartments for residents who had lost their homes.
“This is our common tragedy and pain,” he said in a statement, adding that MMK would provide financial assistance to those in need.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova told state television that the chances of finding survivors were fading as the day wore on amid falling temperatures.
In 2015, at least five people were killed when a gas explosion damaged an apartment building in Russia’s southern city of Volgograd.