Russian emergency services have found an 11-month-old baby boy alive in the rubble of an apartment block that collapsed in a gas explosion, after a bitterly cold night in which temperatures dropped to -26C.
“Rescuers heard crying. The baby was saved by being in a cradle and warmly wrapped up,” the Chelyabinsk region’s governor, Boris Dubrovsky, said.
The infant was pulled carefully from the wreckage and driven to hospital.
The health ministry said in a statement that the child was in a dangerous condition with serious frostbite, a head injury and leg fractures. He was due to be taken to Moscow for treatment.
The recovery – about 35 hours after the block collapsed – provided some hope for rescuers, even as the search for other survivors looked increasingly futile.
At least seven people were killed and 37 more remain missing after the explosion tore through the residential building in central Russia, leaving hundreds without a home on New Year’s Eve. Only six survivors have been found, including a 13-year-old boy.
A large section of the 10-storey building in the industrial city of Magnitogorsk, in the Ural mountains, crumbled at about 6am local time on Monday, when many people were still asleep.
Powerful heaters were deployed in the hope of stopping any trapped survivors from freezing to death. Workers had scoured the crushed concrete and mangled steel throughout the night but the search was temporarily halted out of fear other sections of the structure could be unstable.
On Tuesday, the head of Russia’s emergencies ministry, Yevgeny Zinichev, said there was a “real threat of part of the building collapsing … It’s impossible to continue working in such conditions.” Efforts to stabilise the walls could take up to 24 hours.
The Soviet-era apartment block was home to about 1,100 people, and other residents had been evacuated to a nearby school. The blast completely destroyed 35 flats but others were left standing.
Volunteers have offered money and clothing for victims, and some said they were ready to provide temporary shelter to those in need. Magnitogorsk, about 1,000 miles (1,600km) east of Moscow, is home to one of the country’s largest steel producers.
Staff from Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works took part in the rescue operation and the company’s chairman said it would provide financial assistance.
Dubrovsky announced a day of mourning on 2 January, with flags lowered and celebrations cancelled, after the disaster dampened spirits during the new year period, usually the country’s biggest annual festivity.
Vladimir Putin rushed to the scene on Monday, with television broadcasts showing him looking concerned as he met local officials.
“It is in the character of our people, despite new year’s festivities, to remember to think of the dead and wounded at this moment,” the president said.
Witnesses said the explosion was strong enough to shatter the windows of nearby buildings. “I woke up and felt myself falling. The walls were gone. My mother was screaming and my son had been buried,” said one resident.
Investigators have opened a criminal inquiry into the explosion.