President calls national day of mourning for apartment blast

President Viktor Yushchenko has declared Friday a day of national mourning for the 27 who were killed when a gas explosion shattered a five-storey building in southern Ukraine. Officials said another 10 people were missing.


AFP - Ukraine on Friday observed a day of national mourning for the 27 people killed in a suspected oxygen canister explosion that partially destroyed an apartment block in the Black Sea town of Yevpatoria.

Flags flew at half-mast outside government buildings, and entertainment programmes were canceled on television channels and radio stations.

President Viktor Yushchenko, whose venomous row with his Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko appears to have been put on ice in the aftermath of the tragedy, had declared the national mourning the day earlier.

Twenty-seven bodies had been found and 26 of them identified, said the head of the regional branch of the Ukrainian emergencies ministry, Olexander Mazilin, according to the Interfax news agency.

He said that the dead included some entire families, including one of five people. Five of the wounded were hospitalised for treatment, including one in serious condition.

"These people cannot be left alone in their tragedy. They need humanitarian help," said top Yushchenko aide Roman Bessmertny.

Rescuers, who had worked through the night, were now clearing away debris from what had been the basement and the probability of finding more survivors or more corpses were slim, Mazilin said.

It is not known how many people were in the building when the explosion went off.

A further 21 people have been rescued from the rubble, an official from the ministry for emergency situations told AFP earlier. The death toll on Thursday had been 22 dead.

Two sections of the apartment building, constructed in 1965 and containing around 35 flats, were destroyed in the explosion.

According to Mazilin, rescue efforts were coming to an end and were set to be wrapped up at around midday.

The government has said that the accident -- which completely destroyed two sections of the apartment block -- was likely caused by an explosion of oxygen or acetylene cylinders stored in the building's basement.

Explosions in ageing and poorly maintained Soviet-era apartment buildings, usually caused by gas, are not unusual in Ukraine and the former Soviet Union.

Ukraine's 1+1 television reported that prosecutors had been seen taking a canister away from the ruins but did not allow images to be filmed.

In October 2007, 15 people were killed in a gas explosion that partially destroyed a nine-storey building in Ukraine's eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk.

The disaster has also raised the prospect of a truce in the seemingly perpetual feud between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko after they were pictured in the same car leaving the scene of the incident.

Yushchenko even personally drove the car himself, with the prime minister in the passenger seat, pictures showed, and they then shared the same flight back to Kiev.

The image was inconceivable just a day before, when Tymoshenko accused Yushchenko of allowing the national currency to fall to make money while the president said the prime minister was "trying to drown us all."

Yevpatoria is a popular summer resort town in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, some 60 kilometres (40 miles) west of the regional capital Simferopol.

Crimea has a Russian-speaking majority population as well as substantial Ukrainian and Tartar minorities.

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