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Argentine gas workers held in deadly blast

A woman leans out window while trapped upper floor building damaged by strong explosiRosario ArgentinTuesday Aug. 6 2013. | AP

A woman leans out a window while trapped in the upper floor of a building damaged by a strong explosion in Rosario, Argentina, Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013. | AP Photo

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentine firefighters found signs of life Wednesday as they risked their own, searching through a huge pile of rubble, all that was left of a 10-story apartment building destroyed by a gas explosion that killed 10 people, injured dozens and left 13 unaccounted for.

Two other towers, in front of and behind the collapsed pile, also were heavily damaged by Tuesday’s blast and fire and were danger of collapse, said Marcos Escajadillo, the provincial security secretary in the city of Rosario.

With heavy equipment blocked by the towers that remain standing, firefighters were mostly working by hand, using a sensitive listening device and body-sniffing dogs to try to reach victims thought to be trapped two stories underground, he said.

“We have some possibilities in the second basement, and that’s where, with much difficulty, we have been able to reach. We’re trying to work without making a sound or creating vibrations that could provoke a collapse of the other buildings,” Escajadillo said.

Meanwhile, two repairmen for the Litoral Gas company who were working on the building’s gas system before the blast were in custody Wednesday as investigators studied company records and gathered testimony pointing to a potential negligence case.

Judge Juan Carlos Curto said one repairman fled the scene while the other tried to warn people moments before the blast in Argentina’s third-largest city.

Residents of the building said they had been complaining for weeks that natural gas wasn’t reaching their stoves and water tanks, and the repairmen were in the building Tuesday trying to fix the problem, the judge said.

“This isn’t something that just happened yesterday, but rather it had been coming with days of interventions by Litoral Gas and its repairmen,” Curto told reporters.

“One of the two fled, and the other apparently tried, with an exemplary conduct, to stop cars from passing by the building, according to the person who was with them both at the time,” the judge added.

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