Blast kills two in Russian apartment block

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A blast killed two people in an apartment building early on Wednesday in Sochi, the southern Russian city set to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, police and emergency services said.

Police said a 14-year-old boy and his grandmother were killed and 30 people were being treated for injuries in the Black Sea resort which is a holiday destination for Russians but is also close to the turbulent North Caucasus region.

Police said they found a gas canister at the scene, but did not say what caused the blast.

“We cannot say what the cause of the explosion was until investigators have examined the scene,” a duty officer in the local police told Reuters.

A criminal investigation has been opened, local police said.

Russian television showed a firefighter carrying a child down a ladder propped against the building. Neighbours stared down from upper-floor balconies. Curtains hung limply from the shattered windows of the apartment where the explosion occurred.

Interfax news agency said emergency workers had sealed off access to the building and were evacuating residents. It said the blast, at about 5 a.m. (0100 GMT), wrecked the first four floors of the 12-storey apartment block.

The Kremlin has portrayed the decision by the International Olympic Committee to award Sochi the 2014 Winter Olympic Games as an international vote of confidence in Russia.

The city is not only close to the North Caucasus, scene of long-running insurgencies against Moscow’s rule, but is also near Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia that fought a separatist war in the 1990s.

An explosive device went off on Wednesday in the Zugdidi region near the de-facto border between Georgia and Abkhazia, a province where tension has been rising between Tbilisi’s Western-leaning government and Moscow-backed separatists.

“As a result of the explosion there were no casualties and no one was injured,” Interfax quoted a spokesman for Russian peacekeepers in the area as saying.

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