Firefighters in Sicily are digging through the rubble of a collapsed apartment building in the search for six missing people after an explosion apparently caused by a gas leak killed at least three, authorities say.
The building was occupied by nine members of an extended family, and two visiting relatives – a heavily pregnant woman and her husband – were also on the premises when the explosion occurred late on Saturday in the town of Ravanusa, firefighters said.
Two women were rescued overnight.
One of them, 80-year-old Rosa Carmina, told La Repubblica daily that the lights went out suddenly “and the ceiling and floors collapsed”.
Her sister-in-law, who lived on the floor above her, also survived and was rescued from beneath a pile of rubble.
In pictures: Italian rescue workers continue searching for missing people after a four-storey building collapsed following a gas explosion in Sicily’s Ravanusa pic.twitter.com/ghORPpR6Mx
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The explosion also collapsed three other buildings that appear to have been unoccupied, and shattered windows in three more.
“It was certainly a gas leak that created created a bubble of methane,” the head of Sicily’s civil protection agency, Salvatore Cocina, told ANSA.
He said that a preliminary finding indicates that the functioning of an elevator may have set off the explosion, which was then fed by a gas space heater.
Sicily’s civil protection unit DRPC Sicilia said “a number of buildings” collapsed after the explosion about 8.30pm on Saturday in Ravanusa, about 110 kilometres south-east of Palermo.
The town of 11,000 is near Agrigento, the south-western Sicilian city famous for its Greek temples.
The ANSA news agency cited firefighters as saying that the gas leak was “very substantial” and built up underground.
“The explosion may have been triggered by the activation of an elevator,” the Agrigento fire brigade’s Giuseppe Merendino told the agency.
“In the upcoming days we’ll investigate further, but what is certain is that such an explosion is an exceptional event.”