Apartment gas blast in Yevpatoria, Ukraine

Thursday, December 25, 2008

At least 27 people, including three children, have been killed and about twenty are still missing after a Wednesday gas explosion in an apartment building in the Ukrainian town of Yevpatoria, Crimea. Five injured are treated in local hospitals, one of them in a serious condition.

According to Ukrainian Emergency Situations Ministry, the blast occurred at about 9:45 p.m local time on Wednesday, destroying 35 apartments of a five-storey post-Soviet block. The rescuers, in the number of 565, managed to pull out alive 21 residents of the building; about twenty people are still unaccounted for, the Ministry spokesmen said. The search was regularly suspended so the rescuers could hear voices of victims still trapped under the rubble, the AFP reports.

Olexander Mazilin, head of the regional branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry, said that 26 out of 27 bodies have been identified so far. He told the journalists that entire families, including one family of five, were among the dead. Eduard Grivkovsky, the Crimea's deputy prime minister, told the reporters that there are likely more casualties, as the rescuers were working through the rubble of the third floor to get to the lower floors and basement.

According to the outcome of the government experts, the blast was caused by a leak of oxygen; the gas is reported to have been stored in cylinders in the building's basement. Yulia Tymoshenko, the Ukrainian Prime Minister, however, told the journalists that a certain information about the content of the cylinders, which is to be oxygen or acetylene, will be revealed only when rescuers get to the basement. ""According to preliminary expert conclusions, there was a workshop in the building's basement where explosive materials have been used without any kind of permission," she said. The Ukrainian government has allocated UAH 70 million (about US$ 13.865 million) for work against the effects of the blast. According to the official website of the Prime Minister, the funds will be used to pay peculiarly compensations for lost properties and purchase temporary accommodations for the victims of the blast.

Gas explosions are not rare in the post-Soviet and poorly maintained areas of Ukraine. In 2003 and 2007, such blasts happened in Dnipropetrovsk in the south-central region of the country. In 2003, ten buildings, including a nine-story apartment building, were destroyed after a series of gas blasts; the occurrence resulted in 23 victims. One year ago, a nine-story building was partially destroyed with 15 people dead.

Responses to the occurrence

Viktor Yushchenko, the President of Ukraine, who arrived in Yevpatoria on Thursday, is reported to have visited victims of the blast in hospitals. The following condolence has been published on his official website: "This is a horrific and irremediable loss for all the families and relatives of the victims. This is a great tragedy for the whole Ukraine. I assure you that the state will do everything possible to help you in your disaster".

President Yushchenko signed a special decree "On urgent measures aimed at dealing with consequences of the emergency in Yevpatoriya" that guarantees the victims support in moving from their destroyed flats into places of temporary residence and protects the civil order at the place of the blast. "We have reached agreement that before December 31 all the victims will be resettle", he said in a Thursday interview to the journalists. The President also assured that the state would give the victims all possible support. Victor Yushchenko thanked to the Government and local authorities for their quick reaction to the explosion; on behalf of the state he thanked to all who offered help and condolence.

With another special decree, the President announced December 26 the day of national mourning in Ukraine. "On the day of mourning national flags will be half-masted all over Ukraine on residential houses and buildings, housing state authorities, local self-government bodies, state enterprises, agencies and organisations. All entertainment happenings – concerts, sport competitions, entertainment television and radio programs will be cancelled", he wrote.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who came to Yevpatoria on Thursday, too, order the Ministry of Emergency Situations to manage debris of the destroyed building by the end of the day. "There is everything necessary, in manual mode and if necessary – using technical equipment to clear away debris. We should rescue all the people who can be rescued by the end of the day", she said. Yulia Tymoshenko expressed condolences to families of the victims of the explosion; she said that every damaged family will obtain a compensation of UAH 100,000 (about US$ 19,800) for each dead person. She confirmed that the government will "spare no effort" to support families that suffered from the blast and that they "will obtain pecuniary compensation from the Government of Ukraine and new apartments", the official Prime Minister website states.

Dmitry Medvedev, the President of Russia, expressed his condolences to president Viktor Yushchenko. "It is with great regret that we learned about the explosion in a residential building in Eupatoria, which resulted in multiple dead and wounded people. If necessary, the units of the Black Sea Fleet positioned in Sevastopol are willing to provide the necessary assistance to help save lives. I would like to send my deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims, and my sympathy and wishes for a fast recovery to the wounded." According to the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, president Yushchenko answered that no help was required.

Donald Tusk, the Polish Prime Minister, expressed his condolences to his Ukrainian counterpart, Yulia Tymoshenko. "I have taken with a great regret the note of the tragedy that touched the Nation of Ukraine yesterday in Yevpatoria. Information about many dead and wounded raise my compassion", he wrote in a statement published on his official website.