Gas blast injures nine, could have been intentional

Gas explosion in a Tartu apartment building.
Gas explosion in a Tartu apartment building. Photo: Pilt videost

The Alarm Center received a call at 1.44 p.m. on Thursday according to which the smell of gas could be felt coming from a locked apartment door. Because initial information suggested a man under the influence of alcohol was in the apartment, police officers and medics joined rescue workers as first responders. A powerful blast rocked the neighborhood at 1.56 p.m. hitting rescuers trying to enter the locked apartment. Several Tartu residents said the shockwave could be felt as far as the city center and even Toomemägi.

The resident, two rescue workers, two policemen and an ambulance driver were taken to the hospital with severe injuries. Three residents of the apartment building also required first aid. The man who was in the apartment at the time of the blast later died in hospital, while two police officers, aged 23 and 25, were severely injured, Southern Police Prefect Vallo Koppel said.

The fire was localized by 2.30 p.m. and put out by 4.09 p.m. Firefighters checked all buildings that had suffered damage in the blast that were deemed safe.

Resident locked himself in

The apartment’s resident was described as asocial. “A man lived there with his mother. She was the only reason he had coped with life so far,” Tiiu from the stairwell over said. She added that she feared the building would collapse when she felt the explosion. Tiiu’s neighbor, who refused to give their name, added that the apartment was inhabited by a former convict with asocial habits.

Information available to Postimees suggests the man locked himself in the apartment soon after which gas started leaking from it. The suspected perpetrator was alone in the apartment. “The investigation will try to determine whether the cause was a falling out with a loved one,” said Marie Aava, press liaison for the Prosecutor’s Office.

Criminal proceedings have been launched to determine the circumstances of the incident. “Evidence we have so far gives reason to believe the blast might have been caused intentionally, which is why we are investigating it as intent to cause an explosion. However, the most important thing right now is for the people who were injured to get well and I wish them a speedy recovery,” said Kairi Kaldoja, chief prosecutor for the Southern Prosecutor’s Office.

City offering victims a play to stay

The city of Tartu dispatched social workers to the scene immediately after the explosion to try and identify people who might need help.

Mayor Urmas Klaas said that social workers first had to determine whether anyone needed a place to stay. Rooms had already been booked for that purpose at the Tartu Vocational Education Center Hotel on Kopli Street.

It turned out that the city will have to put up three people. Social workers learned that several others had moved in with relatives or acquaintances.

“People who have other immediate concerns caused by the blast are welcome to turn to us. For example, we have ordered a cleanup service for an old lady whose windows were blown out by the blast,” Klaas explained, urging people to call Inga Kool, head of the city government’s social work service, by dialing 5 866 7710.

Tartu will organize the first psychological counseling session for those who might need it on Friday. Prime Minister Kaja Kallas also wished the victims a speedy recovery and their loved ones fortitude on Thursday. “I hope that people who live nearby can soon return to their homes safely. We will get to the bottom of why this severe incident occurred. Our people need to be made feel safe again.”