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Two Dead in Austrian Building Blast

December 3, 1999

WILHELMSBURG, Austria (AP) _ An explosion leveled a three-story apartment building Thursday, killing at least two people, and rescuers worked through the night searching for victims buried in the ruins.

The blast in this town 30 miles west of Vienna may have been caused by an ignition of natural gas, authorities said. Two people were confirmed dead, two were injured and eight were believed missing early Friday.

During the night, about 200 firefighters, soldiers, police and dogs searched through the mound of rubble. One woman was brought out alive after medics amputated both of her legs to free her.

After digging with their hands for over two hours, rescuers also pulled a 15-year-old girl from the ruins alive. Emergency workers said the girl was in good condition considering her ordeal and was being taken to a hospital.

Officials said it was unlikely that many more survivors would be found.

``This is a hopeless situation,″ said Erwin Proell, the governor of Lower Austria state. ``There are practically no hollow pockets in the mound of rubble.″

It was unclear how many people were inside the building, which contained 12 apartments, when the blast took place about 6:35 p.m. Officials first estimated that 30 to 40 people may have been buried in the ruins, but Austrian television reported later that many of the residents had been out of the building at the time of the blast. An early morning update cut the number of missing to eight.

Proell said on state television that the explosion may have been caused by a hole accidentally drilled into a gas pipe during work to install anti-lightning devices.

After people noticed the odor of gas, they were ordered to leave the building and a nearby kindergarten was evacuated. However, residents were allowed to return to their homes after repairs were made. The blast occurred about a half-hour later.

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