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Death Toll In Ukraine Apartment Blast Rises To 27

Rescuers dig through the rubble of the apartment building.
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (Reuters) -- The death toll in a blast that ripped through a five-story apartment block in southern Ukraine has risen to 27 people, the Emergency Situations Ministry has said.

The suspected gas explosion on December 24 flattened all five floors of the block in the Black Sea resort of Yevpatoria, leaving huge piles of rubble. A family of five was among the dead, the ministry said.

Rescuers pulled out 21 survivors from the debris of concrete, wires, and smashed furniture. A local ministry official said the chances of finding survivors or bodies were now slim as rescuers picked their way through all the floors in the rubble and reached the basement.

Gas explosions in often crumbling apartment buildings are common in former Soviet republics, particularly in winter when residents use more heating.

One such blast last year killed 15 residents in the central city of Dnipropetrovsk. President Viktor Yushchenko has declared December 26 a national day of mourning.