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Powerful explosion rocks central Prague, dozens injured

 
 
 
 
 
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A suspected gas explosion has damaged a building in the heart of the Czech capital Prague, injuring 35 people. Six of those injured were reportedly foreigners, and two people are said to have been seriously injured.

Rescuers had previously believed that three or four people were still trapped in the rubble and possibly dead, though Fire Chief Vladimir Pesek said that there are no indications that anyone was unaccounted for.

“Most signs indicate that nobody is in ruins, but we will continue removing rubble until we can be sure. Clearing [the site], it seems, will take about 48 hours,” CT 24 cites him as saying.

Prague Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda echoed his statements, saying that “no one is missing.” The mayor further confirmed previous police reports that the explosion was not an act of terror.

“It was a gas explosion and from all available information it was not a terrorist explosion,” Svoboda said at a news conference.

He has offered alternative accommodation to any residents whose homes were damaged in the blast.

Officials had previously estimated that up to 40 people sustained injuries, but Zdenek Schwarz, head of the rescue service in Prague later revised that figure to 35. He told reporters that 30 people had been taken to the hospital, two of them with serious injuries.

Included among the injured are a German woman, two women from Kazakhstan, two Portuguese women and a man from Slovakia. None of them received serious injuries, the city’s rescue service said.

Police say the explosion occurred at around 9:56 a.m. local time on Divadelni Street, and was sparked by a leaking gas pipe. Law enforcers said there were about 15 people in the building at the time of the explosion.

The area was littered with debris, and windows in buildings hundreds of meters from the blast were shattered, including some in the nearby National Theater.

The majority of injuries are said to be minor wounds like scratches, bruises and abrasions.

Police sealed off a wide area around the blast site and evacuated neighboring buildings. There have not been reports of any deaths.

“We were sitting in the classroom, when we heard a huge bang and everyone rushed to the window to see what was happening. Students from the next class started running and then we saw smoke,” an eyewitness reported.

Witnesses said that flats at the explosion site were “totally destroyed”.

“I was sitting quietly in my flat, making coffee. Then there was an incredible explosion. I thought the building would collapse. I looked out the window, and there was only dust everywhere,” Venceslava Sehnotkova, a pensioner living in a nearby house, told Reuters.

The building where the explosion took place is located on a side street near the National Theater, the Prague FAMU film school and the popular Cafe Slavia on the east bank of the Vltava River.

Later on Monday, another gas leak was discovered near Cafe Slavia, prompting authorities to seal off the surrounding area.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas said he was “deeply affected” by the incident and was being constantly briefed on the developments.

“It’s really immense and huge, almost like after an air assault or a bomb explosion,” Necas said after visiting the scene. He added that it was “very lucky” nobody died in the blast.

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