LATIN AMERICA

At least a dozen believed dead after blast destroys Argentina high rise

Workers search frantically to find the missing buried under rubble

Photo: atlas | Video: VÍDEO: ATLAS / FOTO: AFP

At least 12 people were reported dead and more than 60 others injured when an explosion ripped through a high-rise apartment building early Tuesday in downtown Rosario, Argentina's third-largest city.

Rescue teams on Wednesday found two bodies under the rubble out of 15 possible victims who have been reported missing. They were working against the clock with the possibility that the remains of the entire structure would come crumbling making their search more arduous.

Authorities were still investigating the cause of explosion, but an initial inquiry points to either a gas leak or a faulty water heater in the building. The explosion completely destroyed the façade of building and caused structural damage to nearby high rises, which had to be evacuated.

“I was in the bathroom when the explosion occurred and the roof came crashing down on me,” Evangelina, a student, told La Nación. “My entire kitchen was on my balcony.”

Scores of fire trucks and emergency medical teams appeared at the scene to help rescue trapped residents inside the building and put out fires that had flared in nearby buildings.

The explosion took place at around 9.30am local time and it was heard throughout a four-kilometer radius. Salta, the street where the building is located, looked like a war zone with firefighters struggling to put out the multiple blazes caused by the explosion.

Political parties in Rosario, which is located in Santa Fe province, decided on Tuesday to cancel all campaigning for Sunday’s primary due to the tragedy. The scheduled legislative primaries, in which voting is mandatory, pit the provincial ruling party’s candidate, Hermes Binner, against Jorge Obeid, who is supported by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s Peronist faction, with the conservative Miguel del Sel also running.

Fernández de Kirchner was in New York, where she was presiding over the UN Security Council meeting at the time of the accident.

Litoral Gas is the company that serves Rosario and is jointly owned by a Swiss and Argentinean companies. Last week, the Santa Fe provincial legislature passed a law to create a state company — not to replace Litoral, but to serve customers who do not have gas in their homes, which is about 6.5 percent.

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