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Deadly gas blast wrecks building

A natural gas explosion has wrecked an apartment building in the Argentine city of Rosario, killing at least eight people and injuring 60.

Officials said 19 people were unaccounted for after Tuesday's blast.

Dozens of people were trapped for a time in the upper floors of the burning building as a plume of smoke billowed up over the country's third-largest city.

The building's front and back facades were ripped open, exposing the shattered remains of flats inside.

Firefighters working from above and below pulled people out of windows and off balconies as the bottom floors burned.

Rosario Mayor Monica Fein confirmed the death toll and said the blast was probably caused by a gas leak. She said 19 people were on a list of missing people. "We're working with our best teams and continue looking under rubble," Ms Fein said. "We have information that shows that this was clearly an issue with the gas."

Some survivors were outraged and were shown on local television venting their anger on the streets. They said they reported a gas leak about 40 minutes before the blast, but their warning calls went unanswered. Litoral Gas company spokesman Jose Maria Gonzalez denied the claims. The company cut off gas flow to much of the city after the blast.

The explosion partially destroyed the three buildings in the 10-storey residential complex leaving it in serious danger of collapse. The fire took three hours to extinguish, firefighters said. Buildings were damaged in the area surrounding the blast, which sent bricks and glass and cement crashing onto the street. Eleven schools were evacuated, and several shops and other blocks of flats were damaged.

National Security Secretary Sergio Berni offered the services of the border police and coast guard to help local authorities. Meanwhile, Santa Fe Governor Antonio Bonfatti said a judge was already investigating the blast. "The victims are a source of immense pain to all of us, but also to the people who have lost it all," he said. "We're here for them."

Argentine football star Lionel Messi, who was born in Rosario, sent his condolences through his foundation. "Sending strength and lots of energy to the family members of the victims of today's regrettable tragedy," Messi said.

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