Entire Russian shopping centre blown apart in massive gas explosion as rescuers begin sift through rubble for victims (VIDEO)

The city of Vladikavkaz in southern Russia was rocked on Friday morning by a colossal blast that tore through a superstore, reducing it to a pile of rubble and leaving authorities scrambling to rescue possible survivors.

Local emergency services told RIA Novosti that the explosion was thought to have been caused by oxygen cylinders stored in the basement of the building, which housed a supermarket and other stores.

The explosion took place at 7.24am Moscow time, sources say, meaning that the center was closed to the public. Footage shared online showed rescue workers sifting through the rubble for victims.

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One man, a jeweler who had an office in the center, had been working when the shockwaves ripped through the building. He said the blast knocked him out, but he was later able to escape the carnage.

The deputy prime minister of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, where Vladikavkaz is located, said that it appeared that serious injuries had been avoided. Irbek Tomaev told journalists that “at present, rescue operations are underway, the area and rubble are being cleared. No casualties were reported.”

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Investigators have now reportedly opened a probe to determine whether any criminal wrongdoing led to the explosion.

In previous years, the city saw a series of terrorist attacks, including a 2010 suicide bombing in its central market that killed at least 17 people and injured more than 160. 

In June, Russia’s FSB security agency said it had foiled a planned attack by a militant purporting to be affiliated with ‘Islamic State’ (IS, formerly ISIS), which is registered as a terrorist group in Russia. A homemade bomb was reportedly found.

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