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Explosion hits Moscow apartment building
Updated: 2004-03-07 10:54

An explosion tore through a Moscow apartment building before dawn Sunday, injuring at least two people and forcing evacuation of the 14-story building. Authorities said it appeared to have been caused by a gas leak.

The blast struck at about 4:20 a.m., destroying several apartments in the dilapidated concrete building on Chertanovsky Street in southern Moscow.

Two people were hospitalized with injuries from the blast, said Valery Buzovkin, a police spokesman at the scene. The ITAR-Tass news agency reported eight people were hospitalized.

The cause of the blast was unclear, but authorities said initial indications were that it was caused by gas.

Sofia Alimova, who lives on the building's 10th floor, said the blast was centered in a one-room apartment occupied by a couple.

"We heard a loud bang, and I ran to the window because all the car alarms were going off. I looked out the window and it seemed quiet, but a neighbor called and said there was an explosion on the fourth floor," she said.

"I put my coat on over my nightgown and left as quickly as I could," she said, standing in the snowy street near the building.

Natural gas explosions in Russia's often shabby apartment buildings are not uncommon, but fears about terrorism are running high in the wake of a series of explosions that authorities blame on Chechen separatist rebels, including a bombing last month on the Moscow subway that killed 41 people.

Some 300 people died in apartment explosions in September 1999 that officials blamed on the rebels.

Security concerns have also been high in the Russian capital ahead of March 14 presidential elections, with authorities speculating that terrorists could launch attacks to disrupt the voting or tarnish incumbent President Vladimir Putin, who is expected to win.

On Friday night, a bomb exploded at a building in central Moscow that reportedly was being converted into a Jewish school. No one was injured.

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