Theft of gas valves is suspected in Russian apartment building blast

March 17, 2004|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW - Police said yesterday that they were searching for two homeless men who might have stolen gas valves from an apartment building in northern Russia in order to sell them, leading to a huge predawn explosion that left at least 41 people dead.

But a municipal official said the utility lines in Arkhangelsk, 600 miles north of Moscow, were so poorly maintained that simple deterioration also could have caused the blast.

A deputy to the top regional emergency official said the dead included five children.

The explosion occurred shortly after 3 a.m., ripping off the upper half of the building as most of its 80 residents slept.

Yelena Denisova, a 37-year-old librarian who lived on the second floor, said in a telephone interview that she was asleep when the explosion occurred:

"I felt something heavy on my head. My head was aching, the echo of the explosion was ringing in my ears, and I could not stir a finger because there was all this stuff on top of me.

" ... For the first few seconds, I even thought that I had died and this was what life after death felt like."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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