17:55 GMT +321 March 2018
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    MOSCOW, MARCH 16 (RIA Novosti) - A blast hit a nine-storey residential house at about 3 a.m., Moscow time, this morning in Arkhangelsk, provincial center in European Russia's north. A staircase and apartments opening on it are in debris from the house top to bottom. 29 out of a total 63 residents died, Viktor Beltsov, deputy chief of the public relations department of the Ministry for Emergency and Calamity Relief, told Novosti.

    Search-and-rescue efforts involve more than 600 people and over thirty machines. Workers are hard put cleaning off the debris as collapsed blocks are in a solid pack. Search efforts will certainly last into next morning. Many more bodies will be found - people in the upper stories had not the slightest chance to survive, says Mr. Beltsov.

    The regional interior affairs department is investigating the tragedy. Blasted gas is the most probable assumption. There are suspicions of pipe plugs stolen in the fatal house part, so policemen are checking all non-ferrous scrap metal purchasers in the city.

    There are eyewitness accounts of two men leaving the house cellar last night, carrying several brass plugs. Their composite sketches have been made.

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