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17 killed in Turkey school collapse

A religious boarding school for girls in Turkey collapsed on Friday after a suspected gas explosion, killing 17 girls and injuring at least 27 others, local media reported, citing rescue authorities.

world Updated: Aug 02, 2008 01:31 IST

A religious boarding school for girls in Turkey collapsed Friday after a suspected gas explosion, killing 17 girls and injuring at least 27 others, local media reported, citing rescue authorities.

Interior Minister Besir Atalay, visiting the scene, said earlier that 16 girls were killed after a suspected gas explosion, and between four and six were under the debris. A 17th body was later pulled from the rubble.

One of the girls described how the explosion sent a wall of flame through the school dormitory just as the school's pupils, aged from eight to 16, were getting up for morning prayers.

The three-storey building near the central town of Taskent, Konya province, crumbled, leaving many of the children trapped.

Dozens of rescuers were clawing through the rubble looking for survivors. Specialist sniffer dogs were also brought in to help.

Rescuers ordered crowds who gathered around the site to be quiet as they made loudspeaker appeals for survivors to make their presence known by shouting out or knocking on walls, Anatolia news agency reported.

It said sounds indicating at least one survivor had been heard.

Earlier, Konya province governor Osman Aydin said rescue teams had made contact with three students trapped under the rubble.

About 40 girls were at the school on a Koran study course during the summer holiday break.

"We got up early for prayers and I went down to have a wash," 13-year-old Merve Avci told the Anatolia news agency.

"A strong whistling sound came up from the ground floor. I went into the kitchen with two teachers and one of them said: 'A gas pipe has broken.'"

Avci said she then went back upstairs "and five minutes later a strong gas smell took over the dormitories followed by the deafening explosion."

"We felt the flames rise up around us," said Avci, who escaped with slight cuts as she was in a section of the building that did not collapse, Anatolia reported.

At least two of the casualties suffered major injuries that would need surgery, said local hospital official Galip Sef.

"Judging by the burns we have seen on the injured, we think that the building collapsed because a gas container exploded," he told Anatolia.

The establishment is run by a religious foundation.

The education ministry said it has begun an inquiry into the incident because an annex had been built without authorisation.

The collapse of an 11-storey building in the same province in 2004 left 92 dead.