building explosion June 17, 2011
Israeli soldiers clear wreckage in front of a damaged residential building following a gas explosion that occured overnight, in the Israeli town of Netanya, north of Tel Aviv on June 17, 2011. Photo by AFP
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Four people were killed and 91 were injured in a explosion early Friday morning in an apartment building in downtown Netanya. The circumstances surrounding the explosion are still unclear, but first estimates indicate that the damage was the result of a gas explosion.

Major damage was caused to the apartment building and to other nearby buildings on Herzl Street in Netanya's Independence Square, an area frequented by many tourists.

The explosion rocked a 5-story building approximately 20 minutes after midnight. Windows were shattered, blinds were ripped out of place, and fences were split apart by the explosion. Glass, metal and pieces of wood were scattered in every direction.

Among those killed were two women in their 40s, one man in his 20s and a 51-year-old man. Many of the people who were injured in the explosion were French tourists spending the summer in Netanya.

Two workers from the gas company which provided gas to the building were arrested on Friday morning for suspected negligence. Police are also questioning company workers who received calls before the blast about a strong smell of gas in the building.

The force of the blast also caused much damage to coffee houses hundreds of meters away from the epicenter of the explosion.

Emergency aid workers continue to evacuate residents of the apartment building with the help of cranes and are examining the building to ensure that no one is trapped in their apartments.

Large teams of aid workers are evacuating the injured to hospitals in Netanya, Hadera and Kfar Sava, and many police officers are milling about the area, shutting it off to traffic and asking the general public to keep their distance at this time.

Police received a complaint on Thursday afternoon about a man suspiciously loitering close to the building's gas tanks. Police arrived and spoke to the man, but decided not to take him down to the station. After the explosion occurred, police arrested the man on suspicion of having tampered with the gas tanks.

After a number of the building's residents complained of the harsh smell of gas in the area of the building, employees of the company that supplies the gas tanks were called to the scene. The workers reported that they found no problem with the building's equipment, and they left the scene. A number of hours later, the explosion occurred.

The police are expected to interrogate the gas company employees today on suspicision of negligence.