17 die as explosion destroys girls dorm in Turkey

Türkiye Materials 2 August 2008 07:29 (UTC +04:00)

(AP) ї An explosion destroyed a three-story girls dormitory in central Turkey on Friday, killing at least 17 students, injuring 27 and setting off a frantic search for others trapped in the rubble.

Rescuers working late into the night ї removing debris with shovels, pickaxes and their bare hands ї pulled out two survivors, leaving at least one girl unaccounted for.

"We won't stop until we find her," Mehmet Demirgul, mayor of Balcilar where the collapse occurred, told the Associated Press.

Officials said about 45 girls between ages of 8 and 16 were staying at the dormitory as they attended Quran courses during the school summer break.

Demirgul said a leaking pipe carrying liquefied petroleum gas likely caused the pre-dawn blast.

Student Merve Avci said she arose before morning prayers when she and some teachers heard a strange sound and went to the kitchen to investigate, according to Anatolia news agency.

There, they saw a loose gas pipe. She quickly returned to her room, but the smell of gas soon invaded the building and then the explosion erupted.

The blast leveled most of the structure, but she was in a small section that remained intact, according to the Anatolia report. She said flames rose from the basement toward the top of the building.

Ugur Ibrahim Altay, head of a local civil engineers organization, questioned the structural integrity of the 18-year-old building.

"If better material was used, it would at least not turn into rubble like this," he said.

In 2004, an 11-story apartment building collapsed in Konya, killing 92 residents. The collapse was blamed on faulty refurbishment work. A year earlier, a school dormitory in Bingol, southeast Turkey, collapsed in an earthquake, killing 83 children.

Earlier, television footage showed dozens of rescue workers in orange uniforms swarming the dormitory's wreckage while crowds of curious onlookers watched.

Rescue workers asked the crowd to sit down and be quiet so they could use special equipment to listen for signs of life from deep inside the ruins, Anatolia reported.

An old man could be seen crying nearby the wreckage while a survivor was carried to an ambulance on stretchers.

At least four military helicopters, which brought in the rescue teams, ferried the injured to hospitals in the city center some 100 miles away from the site.

One girl in pajamas could be seen being carried to a hospital. Another could be seen being treated on the back seat of a van, before being moved onto a stretcher and taken away, groaning in pain.

A funeral was held for six of the dead students in a nearby mosque.