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5 Die in Italy Gas Leak Explosion

November 27, 2001

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ROME (AP) _ A gas leak sparked a powerful explosion Tuesday in a Rome apartment building, killing three firefighters who had arrived minutes earlier to check on the leak, along with two others, the Interior Ministry said.

The blast shortly before 9:30 a.m. tossed parked cars into the air and trapped victims under rubble. Some 10 hours later, rescuers pulled one woman out alive and were searching for others, a reporter for RAI state television said.

Three of the dead were firefighters. The bodies of two civilians were later found in the wreckage, said Monica Aronica, spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry.

More than 30 others were injured in the blast along Via Ventotene, a narrow, shop-lined street in northeast Rome, authorities said. One of the injured, a firefighter, was in a coma, Aronica said.

The explosion left a crater some 65 feet deep. Interior Minister Claudio Scajola blamed a gas leak.

Residents of the seven-story building first reported smelling gas Monday evening, but a preliminary check turned up nothing. Police, firefighters and gas company workers were again dispatched Tuesday after another rash of calls about the smell.

Gas leak blasts are not uncommon in Italy, where many homes and small businesses rely on gas for heat, hot water and stoves.

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