Late-night tragedy: At least four people were killed and some 50 were wounded, most of them lightly, in a Netanya blast late Thursday that officials say is apparently the result of a gas tank exploding.
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Three of the fatalities are women, including two in their 40s and one in her 20s, officials said. Early Friday, a 50-year-old man was pronounced dead, Magen David Adom ambulance service said. Three of the wounded sustained moderate injuries and the rest were lightly hurt.
Meanwhile, police detained a man spotted near the building's gas tanks hours before the lethal explosion. The man was held for questioning earlier in the day but was released, before being arrested again after the blast.
Police officials said they increasingly believe that the blast was the result of a gas tank explosion that was either leaking or was deliberately blown up. A gas technician called to the site before the explosion after residents complained of gas smell will also be questioned by police.
A loud explosion was reported in the third floor of the building after midnight, with police forces and ambulances rushing to the scene. The Sharon Region Police Commander, Shimon Shomrani, said the blast was not terror related.
"It apparently resulted from a gas leak. We estimate that the gas leaked from the lower floors, spread to the higher floors, and then the explosion took place," he said. "We evacuated all casualties from the building."
Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino also addressed the tragedy, pledging to look into all the circumstances of the incident.
Earlier, police forces launched a hunt for a vehicle seen escaping the scene shortly after the explosion. Large police forces were also looking into reports that two people fled the scene.
Residents in the area said that the front of the four-story residential building collapsed. Officials feared that the building may completely collapse, prompting rescue forces to work frantically to clear all residents and keep curious passersby away from the scene. Some elderly residents at the building were refusing rescue forces' requests to leave the site, authorities said.
The area resembled the scene of a terror attack, with dozens of vehicles also sustaining major damage. A crane was brought to the site to enable rescue forces to quickly reach the building's top floors.
IDF Home Front Command forces were dispatched to the scene as part of the rescue effort. Firefighters from across the Sharon region also rushed to the area.
Netanya disaster site (Photo: Ido Erez)
IDF rescue forces at site
Netanya residents told Ynet that a huge blast shook the area, with smoke billowing above the explosion site. The Magen David Adom ambulance service declared the explosion a multi-casualty event shortly after the blast.
Explosion aftermath (Photo: George Ginsburg)
A rescue services volunteer who was among the first to arrive on the scene of the blast in told Ynet: "The images reminded me of the horrific terror attacks we've seen in the past."
"On the way to the building I saw body parts. People were bleeding and frightened. All the people we've managed to reach received medical treatment at the scene, but many others were trapped in the rubble," he said.
Another rescue worker who arrived at the scene of the explosion said "it's a miracle that someone managed to get out of the building alive given the force of the blast."
Casualties evacuated from site (Photo: Ido Erez)
One of the wounded, 16-year-old Almog Omri, said she was talking to a friend when they heard the explosion.
"I saw something flying in my direction; it hit my head," she said. "We got scared…at first we thought it was a terror attack but now I don't know what happened there. I saw fire and heard a blast…I saw shattered glass and reached the hospital with stitches in my forehead."
Hillel, who lives not far from the explosion site, said: "The blast was so loud it sounded as though it was right by my building. We're hearing plenty of sirens. A second after the explosion I saw a police cruiser driving like mad towards the site. All the vehicles in the area got out of here."
Residents intially said they smelled explosive materials in the area, but witnesses later reported a heavy scent of gas at the site.
Raanan Ben-Zur, Eli Senyor, Hassan Shaalan, Yoav Zitun, Yonatan Fine, Hanan Greenberg, Gil Naveh and Stav Spivak contributed to the article
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