Latin America & Caribbean

Argentina declares mourning over Rosario building blast

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Media captionFootage from the scene shows the devastating aftermath of the blast, as Ignacio de los Reyes reports

The Argentine government has declared two days of national mourning for the victims of a deadly gas explosion in a residential building in the city of Rosario on Tuesday.

At least 10 people died and more than 60 were injured, the authorities said. Twelve people are still missing.

The powerful blast destroyed the whole front of the 10-storey apartment block and damaged nearby buildings.

Rescue teams are continuing to search the rubble for survivors.

"We are trying to work without making a sound or creating vibrations that could provoke a collapse of the other buildings," said Rosario Security Secretary Marcos Escajadillo.

Witnesses say the blast, which happened just before 10:00 local time (13:00 GMT), could be heard several kilometres away.

Police closed buildings and schools in a five-block radius.

More than 50 apartments were totally destroyed in the area.

Fire crews rescued dozens of residents from balconies and upper floors.

The government initially announced that 12 people had been killed in the accident, but it has since revised down the figure.

One of the 10 victims has not as yet been identified.

'Black page'

Santa Fe provincial governor Antonio Bonfatti visited the affected area in Rosario's city centre with Argentine Security Secretary Sergio Berni and Defence Secretary Agustin Rossi.

Image caption Many buildings in the vicinity of the blast were badly damaged
Image caption The blast destroyed the facade of the residential building and its whole front wing
Image caption More than 50 flats in several blocks have been wrecked
Image caption This woman waited on her shattered window ledge to be rescued
Image caption Families and relatives have been looking for their loved ones; 12 people have been listed as missing
Image caption The powerful explosion was heard several kilometres away
Image caption A wedding photograph is recovered from the rubble

Mr Bonfatti said an official inquiry, headed by a judge, had been launched.

"This is the time to make a proper assessment so we can take a decision. Someone must be accountable for this."

He described the accident as "a black page in the city's history".

Two gas engineers who were repairing the gas system at the Salta street apartment block shortly before the accident have been remanded in custody.

A fifth floor resident identified only as Evangelina told La Nacion newspaper that someone had tried to rob the gas meter two weekends before.

"A gas engineer was due to come to fix it today, so we were informed the gas was going to be cut off between 09:00 and 14:00," she said.

"I was in the bath when the explosion took place and the ceiling fell over my head. I have lost everything."

Rosario is Argentina's third largest city, after Buenos Aires and Cordoba.

Pope Francis said he was "deeply saddened" by the tragedy in his home country.

Barcelona football star Lionel Messi, who was born in Rosario, also expressed his regret over the accident.

"Sending strength and lots of energy to the family members of the victims of today's regrettable tragedy," he wrote.