A fireball has destroyed a Russian apartment block, killing at least four and leaving 68 unaccounted for after a gas explosion ripped through the building.
The blast rocked the high-rise building at 6am as people were preparing to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Magnitogorsk in the country’s Chelyabinsk region – but the death toll is expected to rise.
Officials say dozens are missing after the fireball resulted in seven upper floors of the building giving way.
Several hundred rescuers were scrambling to pull adults and children from the debris after the building collapsed ‘like a house of cards’. There are reports that some residents jumped from windows in a desperate attempt to escape.
President Vladimir Putin flew into Magnitogorsk late on Monday afternoon, visiting the injured in hospital and meeting with local authorities, state television showed.
Putin looked on as rescue workers toiled in temperatures of -22 Celsius (-8 Fahrenheit) to locate people trapped in the debris.
Dozens are missing after a high-rise block of flats collapsed in Russia when the building was rocked by a gas explosion
Four people have been confirmed dead in the New Year’s Eve disaster in Magnitogorsk in the country’s Chelyabinsk region – but the death toll is expected to rise
A total of 48 apartments were damaged in the 10-storey building. A huge fire broke out after a suspected gas explosion
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting in the Emergencies Ministry’s rescue operation headquarters on the site of the gas explosion in an apartment building in Magnitogorsk, today
Putin visited survivors of the blast at a nearby hospital and was seen talking to young victims
A total of 48 apartments were damaged in the 10-storey building.
Of some 120 people registered or living in the building, it is known four died, four are in hospital, 16 including seven children were evacuated, and 28 more are known to be alive having contacted the authorities.
This leaves 68 currently unaccounted for at 1pm local time in Magnitogorsk (8am GMT).
Some may have been away from home for the New Year holiday but others may have been staying with residents unknown to the authorities.
Local media complained that officials were holding back the scale of the New Year’s Eve horror.
Law enforcement sources discounted terrorism as a cause and are focusing on a gas leak.
A witness said: ‘Looking from the backyard side, the whole of the block collapsed like a house of cards. It is not likely that anybody is alive there.
‘People from the next entrance are being evacuated with the help of fire brigade ladders.’
The carnage was at 164 Karl Marx Prospect.
Two Il-76 and Sukhoi Superjet 100 are ready to fly from Moscow pick up the injured, said reports.
Rescuer have been digging through the rubble after the building collapsed in the wake of a gas explosion
Officials say 68 people are missing after the 6am blast created a fireball which resulted in seven upper floors of the building giving way
Several hundred rescuers were scrambling to pull adults and children from the debris after the building collapsed ‘like a house of cards’
The governor of Chelyabinsk region Boris Dubrovsky arrived in Magnitogorsk.
The disaster came as Russians prepared to celebrate New Year – which is like Christmas and Hogmanay rolled into one.
‘Vkladimir Putin was immediately informed about the tragedy,’ said a Kremlin spokesman.
Putin has ordered Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova to do everything in her powers to assist those injured and bereaved families.
Local man Georgy said: ‘I went to work early in the morning and heard a strong crack, and everything shook.
‘Let God help keep the victims to as small a number as possible.’
Other local residents confirmed that the explosion was ‘very strong’.
The tragedy comes as Russians prepared to celebrate the most important evening off the country’s calendar – when by tradition Grandfather Frost, or Santa, visits children.
All those killed were adults, an official said, adding that three injured, including one child, were taken to hospital
Judging by the destruction, the explosion occurred on the second floor above an arch in the building
Ministry of Health official Maria Khvorostova said doctors were treating 12 people injured in the building collapse
All those killed were adults, an official said, adding that three injured, including one child, were taken to hospital.
Judging by the destruction, the explosion occurred on the second floor above an arch in the building.
Earlier it had been thought the explosion was higher in the building.
With 68 people reported missing, in a grim message the head doctor of the third city hospital in Magnitogorsk, Mikhail Scherbakov, told reporters: ‘The critical time for medical help has ended.
‘So we do not think that anyone alive will now be brought to us.’
Ministry of Health official Maria Khvorostova said doctors were treating 12 people injured in the building collapse.
‘Four injured were hospitalised, among them one child, born in 2005,’ she said.
‘The rest did not need the hospitalisation. The condition of all 12 people is assessed as satisfactory.’
Residents jumped from windows to escape the appalling tragedy, it was revealed.
Magnitogorsk MP Pavel Verstov said: ‘The explosion was early in the morning. As people told me, there was a pause of several minutes between the explosion and the building collapsing.
‘People had a small chance to survive and they used it. They were jumping out of windows, they tried to use every possibility to evacuate. Altogether 48 flats were destroyed.’
Russian rescue workers search through debris after a gas explosion in an apartment building in the city of Magnitogorsk
The mangled ruins of the building are shown in another picture of the disaster. There have been several similar incidents in Russia in recent years due to ageing infrastructure and poor safety regulations surrounding gas usage
Emergency crews work at the scene of the collapsed apartment building in Magnitogorsk, a city of 400,000 people, about 870 miles southeast of Moscow
As many as 40 people could still be trapped in the rubble of a Russian apartment block that partially collapsed in an explosion on Monday, killing at least four people, news agencies reported
A shocking video shows the moment of the explosion in a ground floor office in the building hit by the ‘gas blast’.
The walls shake and glass breaks in the footage. The video shows the blast was at 6am local time.
Survivor Olesya, whose flat was on the fourth floor, said: ‘I woke up from a loud rumble.
‘Windows in the whole apartment were smashing. There was a strong smell of burning. I heard neighbours shouting at the entrance.
‘I woke my child, and quickly dressed him. We left from the apartment, and instead of the entrance – there was just debris. Men helped us down.
‘By this time there were firefighters already in the yard.’
There have been several similar incidents in Russia in recent years due to ageing infrastructure and poor safety regulations surrounding gas usage.
In 2015, at least five people were killed when a gas explosion damaged an apartment building in the southern city of Volgograd.