Suspected Gas Blast Kills 8 in Nazran

ReutersPeople watching emergency response workers outside a building shattered by an explosion in Nazran on Tuesday.
An explosion ripped though a government building Tuesday in the restive North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia, killing at least eight people and injuring more than 20, officials said.

An initial investigation suggested that a gas leak was to blame, but other possible causes were also being considered, said Marat Prokopenkov of the Emergency Situations Ministry.

Rescue workers recovered eight bodies from the rubble of the three-story brick building, which served as the headquarters of Ingushetia's branch of the Federal Court Marshals Service in the republic's main city, Nazran, a spokeswoman for the ministry's regional branch said.

Another 22 people were pulled from the debris alive, 17 of whom were rushed to hospital, officials said. Others with lighter injuries were allowed to go home.

Authorities cordoned off the wreckage site, where the building's green roof hung precariously over a gutted interior and several walls left standing.

At the blast site, rescue workers picked over the ruins of the destroyed offices.

"It was a very strong explosion. I was in the yard," one worker shouted as he pulled away lumps of concrete.

Relatives of people buried underneath the rubble stood in the snow and wept as they watched the rescue operation.

Svetlana Gorbakova, a spokeswoman for the republic's branch of the Investigative Committee, also said preliminary indications pointed to a gas blast.

Deadly explosions of gas used for cooking and heating are common throughout the country, which is plagued by shoddy construction and safety violations.

Additionally, attacks on law enforcement officials are common in Ingushetia. The province borders war-scarred Chechnya, and near-daily outbreaks of violence stem from Islamic militancy, business and personal rivalries and deep-seated anger at government oppression and heavy-handed police tactics.

(AP, Reuters)