Hundreds of rescue workers are searching for survivors after an apartment building partially collapsed in Russia.
At least four people have been killed as a result of the building collapse in Russia’s Ural Mountains region but many more are feared dead due to the bitterly cold weather.
The nation’s top investigative agency, the Investigative Committee, said an explosion triggered by a gas leak apparently caused the pre-dawn collapse in the industrial city of Magnitogorsk.
The New Year’s Eve accident shocked Russians and marred the mood on the nation’s most beloved holiday.
Authorities said five people were in hospital with injuries and 35 others remained unaccounted for.
Russian officials acknowledged that the odds of finding anyone alive in the debris looked increasingly slim given extreme weather.
Nearly 1,400 rescue workers searched in temperatures of minus 17C. The overnight forecast indicated temperatures could plunge to minus 24C overnight.
“The chances are reducing with time,” health minister Veronika Skvortsova responded when pressed by reporters on the likelihood of finding trapped survivors. “But incredible stories do happen.”
Emergency officials deployed powerful heaters to raise temperatures in the wreckage in case anyone trapped there was at risk of dying of hypothermia.
“We must work as quickly as we can as temperatures don’t give us any time to linger,” deputy emergency minister Pavel Baryshev said during a conference call with local officials.
Officials said they had all the necessary equipment for a thorough search, but the work was proceeding slowly due to fear other sections of the 10-storey building might collapse. Residents of some sections were evacuated as a precaution.
The structure was constructed from concrete panels. One that was left hanging in the collapsed section of the building came crashing down as television stations aired live broadcasts from the scene.
Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the accident site about 870 miles southeast of Moscow and went to a local hospital where injured residents were taken.
At the hospital, Mr Putin spoke to a 13-year-old boy, who sustained head injuries and frostbite after spending an hour under the rubble before being rescued.
“You will get well soon, you are a fighter,” Mr Putin told the boy after hearing that he was practising martial arts.