BALCILAR, Turkey (Reuters) – A gas explosion killed at least 17 girls and injured 27 others, wrecking a dormitory at a school in southern Turkey on Friday, a military rescue official said.
Several girls were feared trapped under the rubble of the three-storey building in Balcilar village in the Toros mountain range, some 340 km (210 miles) south of the capital Ankara.
“We have been informed that 16 students died and 27 were injured. We think that there are still four or six more children under the rubble,” Interior Minister Besir Atalay said.
Later a military rescue official, who declined to be named, told Reuters that the death toll had risen to 17.
Around 50 people, female students and teachers, were in the building when it collapsed like a house of cards from the gas explosion, local residents told Reuters.
Girls from eight to 16 were using the dormitory while they took part in a course of Islamic study.
Merve Avci, a 13-year-old headscarved student who suffered slight injuries, told reporters she had smelled gas coming from downstairs to the upper floors, and then felt the explosion.
“I was in the part of the building which didn’t collapse with five of my friends immediately after the explosion, and we felt flames rising from the downstairs to upper floors,” she said, according to Anatolian news agency.
“We shouted for them to save us,” she said.
VOICES FROM RUBBLE
At the scene, dozens of emergency rescue workers wielding pick axes and hammers dug at the rubble with the assistance of a powerful mechanical digger. Local residents were also helping dig with their bare hands.
Television footage also showed injured girls being carried from a minibus into a hospital in a nearby town. The only structure left standing was a shell of one side of the building with some beds visible, with sheets still on them.
Medical rescue teams pulled out one of three girls they had established contact with under the rubble.
“We are hearing voices. I believe those inside the rubble will be saved,” Balcilar village mayor Mehmet Demirgul told NTV broadcaster.
“We think the collapse was caused by a gas canister explosion in the building, given the burns on the injured,” Konya province health service official Galip Sef said.
Konya Governor Osman Aydin said the blast occurred around 5 a.m. (10 p.m. EDT on Thursday).