By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – An enormous explosion rocked the neighborhood of São Cristovão in the Zona Norte (North Zone) of Rio de Janeiro early Monday morning, damaging at least forty buildings, according to Rio’s fire department. The explosion which occurred around 3AM local time destroyed a restaurant, a pizzeria, a pharmacy in the building where apparently the explosion occurred and eleven small apartments located behind the building.
After the explosion the entire building collapsed. Firefighters were able to rescue seven people from the rubble, including a child.
Officials are not certain how many people were inside the building and in the apartments when the blast occurred and dogs are being used to help find any others who may be trapped beneath the rubble. The entire region has lost electric power and area schools have closed for the day.
Fire officials have not yet determined the source of the explosion but say the blast may have been caused by leaky gas canisters stocked in the building.
Rio’s Mayor Eduardo Paes has been on local TV to say that the building did not have a piped gas line, so businesses and residents used canisters for their gas supply.
According to Globo TV the blast was so powerful it shattered windows hundreds of meters away and was felt over several blocks. Video images show smoke bellowing from twisted metal and concrete, as firefighters and volunteers look for more victims.
Although not common, there have been a few major building accidents in Rio in the past five years. Most recently a gas leak is said to be the cause for the explosion which destroyed a residential building in Rio de Janeiro’s São Conrado neighborhood last May 2015.
In 2012 three buildings collapsed in downtown Rio, killing five people. The accident was blamed on the unauthorized construction of an extra floor in one of the buildings. In October 2011 a restaurant exploded in the center of Rio, killing three people. A gas leak and poor maintenance were blamed for the fatal blast.