Ukraine hospital blast kills 3

2010-01-18 20:08

Lugansk - At least three people were killed and 17 others were missing on Monday after oxygen canisters exploded in a Ukrainian hospital and caused several floors to collapse, officials said.

The accident left a gaping hole in the wall of the hospital in the eastern city of Lugansk, 800km east of Kiev, near the country's border with Russia.

"As a result of a violation of security rules in the intensive care unit of hospital number seven of Lugansk, oxygen canisters exploded," the office of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said in a statement.

"Several floors of the hospital collapsed," the statement said, adding that Tymoshenko, who is in the midst of a heated presidential election battle, was heading to the scene.

"Three people were saved and three bodies were pulled from the rubble," the emergency situations ministry said in a statement.

Earlier the ministry had said that five bodies were recovered. It gave no explanation for the discrepancy.

17 missing

The ministry said that 261 patients and 350 medical personnel were in the hospital at the time of the explosion, and that people from undamaged parts of the building had been evacuated.

"The fate of 17 people remains unknown," Olexander Efremov, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, told reporters at the scene of the accident after attending an emergency meeting on the rescue efforts.

"One can hear voices under the rubble, so the search is continuing," Yefremov said, adding that the survivors could be trapped in a room on the hospital's first floor.

Six search dogs had been brought to the hospital but were waiting for the site to be partly cleared before they could start working, an AFP journalist witnessed.

Local internet newspaper Vostochny Variant said the third and fourth floors of the building had collapsed onto the second.

Lax adherence to safety rules makes such disasters relatively frequent in Ukraine and the former Soviet Union.

In December 2008, 27 people were killed after an oxygen canister explosion partially destroyed an apartment block in the Ukrainian Black Sea town of Yevpatoria.