KIEV, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Gas explosions tore through an apartment block and adjacent buildings in central Ukraine today, killing at least nine people and injuring 21, officials said.
Ukraine's Emergencies Ministry said several explosions in succession struck a residential area of the city of Dnipropetrovsk just before 11 am, the largest sending rubble cascading down on residents in a large block of flats.
''There are nine dead and 21 injured,'' a ministry spokesman said. ''The rescue operation is continuing and of course it is possible that people are still beneath the rubble.'' The ministry's Internet site said two sections of the 10-storey building had been destroyed. It said six of the 21 injured were children, with a total of 70 people rescued from their apartments.
Ministry officials in Dnipropetrovsk said damage was also caused to an adjacent apartment block and two smaller individual houses.
One of the dead had lived in a small house.
The local gas utility in Dnipropetrovsk said the explosion was caused by a sudden increase in gas flows to the area.
Fifth Channel television showed residents scuttling to safety down ladders and escorted by firefighters against a background of twisted window frames and cracked concrete.
Window panes were shattered and a large pile of mangled rubble lay at the base of the building.
President Viktor Yushchenko ordered Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, his longstanding political rival, to deal with the aftermath of the blast and determine its origin. Prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into the causes of the accident.
Local television correspondent Olena Usenko, reached by telephone at the site, said residents had summoned city technicians after complaining of a strong smell of gas. The explosion occurred soon after.
Accidents linked to domestic gas explosions happen often in the former Soviet Union, sometimes causing large loss of life.
REUTERS GL RAI1916