Latin America & Caribbean

Argentina blast hits apartment block in Rosario

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

A powerful blast in a residential building in the Argentine city of Rosario has killed at least 12 people and injured more than 60 others.

At least 15 people are said to be still missing as emergency teams search the rubble for survivors.

Rescue teams say there is a risk of the apartment block collapsing. Nearby buildings have also been affected.

The explosion was caused by a gas leak in the heating system, Rosario city mayor Monica Fein said.

"The whole front wing of the [10-storey] building collapsed with the impact," Rosario Civil Defence Director Raul Rainone told the Clarin newspaper.

More than 50 apartments have been totally destroyed in two adjacent blocks.

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

'Falling ceiling'

Witnesses say the blast could be heard several kilometres away and police closed buildings and schools in a five-block radius.

The explosion happened just before 10:00 local time.

"I was in the bath when the explosion took place and the ceiling fell over my head. I have lost everything," a fifth floor resident identified only as Evangelina told La Nacion newspaper.

She said the accident in the Salta street apartment block may well be linked to problems with the gas system.

Image caption The blast destroyed the facade of the residential building and its whole front wing
Image caption Rescue teams are searching to rubble for survivors
Image caption More than 50 flats in two adjacent buildings have been destroyed
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; 15 people have been listed as missing
Image caption The shock wave hit dozens of buildings in the central area of Rosario
Image caption The powerful explosion was heard several kilometres away

"Two weekends ago, someone tried to rob the gas meter. 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."

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.

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".

Rosario - the birthplace of Barcelona football star Lionel Messi - is Argentina's third largest city, after Buenos Aires and Cordoba.

Messi sent his condolences through his foundation.

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