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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

3 Killed in Apparent Gas Explosion

Itar-TassFirefighters battling a blaze after a blast on Zagorodnoye Shosse on Friday.
An apparent gas explosion tore through an apartment building Friday in southwest Moscow, killing three people and leaving one other hospitalized, emergency officials said.

Investigators were still trying to establish the cause of the blast in the 12-story building on Zagorodnoye Shosse, near the Leninsky Prospekt metro station, but it was likely a natural gas leak, said Dmitry Dokuchayev, spokesman for the city branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry.

First Deputy Mayor Pyotr Biryukov said he witnessed the explosion and saw a woman fall from the building to her death because of the force of the blast, RIA-Novosti reported.

The body of another victim was found on a ninth-floor balcony, while the third person was found dead in an apartment, Dokuchayev said.

Firefighters were called to the scene shortly before noon and evacuated 20 people from the top three floors, some of them by helicopter, Dokuchayev said. The fire was extinguished by 2 p.m. Twenty apartments on the ninth and 10th floors were destroyed by the blast and flames, while 28 were damaged by water used to put out the fire, Biryukov said.

City Hall officials could not be reached for comment Friday, but Biryukov told RIA-Novosti that owners of the damaged apartments would be put up in a hotel and then a temporary residence until their apartments are repaired.

Residents said they had complained to a communal services official about the smell of gas three days earlier and that the official replied that it was due to repair work, Gazeta.ru reported.

Dokuchayev said earlier inspections of the building had not revealed fire safety hazards.

But City Duma Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin, a Yabloko member active in city housing issues, said the fatal blast was not surprising and that he is constantly bombarded with complaints about dilapidated public housing.

"When I try to get someone from the local prefect to look at a building it takes them more than a month to process the request," Mitrokhin said. "And we are not talking about just a regular request. This is a request coming from a city legislator."

Emergency officials registered 4,949 domestic fires in Moscow in the first nine months of this year, 4,910 of which were caused by recklessness, Dokuchayev said. Of those, 2,312 were caused by cigarettes that had not been extinguished, he said.

Explosions blamed on gas leaks are relatively common. A gas leak was blamed for an explosion on Dec. 7, 2005, that sheared off a section of a seven-story apartment building near Prospekt Mira, killing three people and injuring five. Two people were injured March 9, 2004, when a blast caused by a gas leak tore through a 14-story apartment building on 7 Chertanovskaya Ulitsa in southern Moscow. Eight people died Aug. 20, 2002, when a gas explosion laid waste to an entire section of a five-story apartment on 32 Ulitsa Akademika Korolyova in northeast Moscow.