Zubkov Talks Tough After Blasts

Itar-TassEmergency workers milling near a Samara region apartment building where a gas blast killed one person on Monday.
Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov expressed concern Tuesday over a series of gas explosions that killed 15 people in apartment buildings in less than a week, demanding that authorities closely examine the causes and improve safety.

Seeking to fend off criticism, the head of the government technical safety oversight body, however, suggested consumers were largely to blame for the blasts, at least one of which was attributed to the use of a gas cooking stove to heat an apartment.

Pre-dawn gas explosions ripped through two apartment buildings Monday. A blast in the southern Stavropol region killed six people, and another in the Samara region near the Volga River killed one person, authorities said. A similar blast in Tatarstan on Jan. 9 killed eight people.

"The year has just begun, and there have already been so many explosions, so many victims and so much destruction," Zubkov told the head of the oversight agency, Konstantin Pulikovsky, facing him across a desk in televised remarks. "Why, what's happening ... what measures are being taken?

"I am asking you, together with regional authorities, to strengthen control, and I feel that more attention must be paid to issues of technical safety," the prime minister said.

Pulikovsky said people are using gas piped into apartments for cooking to keep warm in cold weather.

"The most elementary safety measures are being violated," he said.

Pulikovsky said that investigations of the blast pointed to "the human factor" as a cause.

The meeting, shown in part on state-run television, allowed President Vladimir Putin's government to display concern over the gas explosions while suggesting that lower-level officials and citizens themselves were responsible for averting such accidents.