MAGNITOGORSK, Russia (Reuters) – Thirty-nine bodies have been pulled from under the rubble of a Russian apartment building that partially collapsed this week after an apparent gas explosion, Interfax news agency reported on Thursday.
The blast in the early hours of December 31 damaged 48 apartments in a 10-storey building in the industrial city of Magnitogorsk, some 1,700 km (1,050 miles) east of Moscow.
The death toll has progressively risen in the past few days as rescuers battle blisteringly cold temperatures to recover people trapped under the rubble.
The emergencies ministry said earlier on Thursday that 37 people had been killed. But the death toll went up to 39 when rescuers recovered another two bodies from the rubble on Thursday afternoon.
Deputy Emergencies Minister Alexander Chupriyan told Interfax there were no more bodies under the rubble and that the search and rescue operation was over.
A Reuters witness at the scene said that workers were removing debris from the site using cranes and other equipment.
Russia’s Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, has said it is still investigating the exact cause of the blast.
It said no traces of explosives had been found at the site. Initial reports attributed the blast to a gas explosion.
Gas explosions are relatively common in Russia because of ageing infrastructure and poor safety regulations surrounding gas use.
(Reporting by Andrey Serebryakov in Magnitogorsk and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Michael Perry and Gareth Jones)