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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blast Near Baikonur Kills 5, Buries 27

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- An explosion in a housing block in a town near Kazakhstan's cosmodrome killed five people, seriously injured another four and buried a further 27 beneath rubble, state emergency officials said Tuesday.

A natural gas leak is thought responsible for the blast.

The explosion, in the early hours of the morning, destroyed part of a five-story apartment block and started a blaze that took local firefighters four hours to bring under control. Emergency rescue teams from Almaty rushed to Leninsk, home to many of the workers at the nearby Baikonur space facility, and joined 300 volunteers from the former Soviet rocket-launching site in digging for survivors trapped beneath concrete, earth and charred family belongings.

Leninsk was built as a dormitory town for Baikonur but since the Soviet Union collapsed, social unrest, appalling pollution and other problems have plagued the once-elite community.

Baikonur facilities have long been criticized by environmentalists for safety problems.