There have been multiple fatalities and injuries after an explosion on the underground subway system in the Russian city of St. Petersburg.
Andrei Kibitov, spokesman for the St. Petersburg governor, told Russian television that at least 10 people had been killed and about 50 people were injured in the subway explosion, the Associated Press reported. However, later on the National Anti-Terrorism Committee released a statement to state-run Interfax agency revising the death toll down to nine, and said more than 20 people were injured. BuzzFeed News couldn’t verify those numbers and they are likely to change.
The explosion occurred around the Technological Institute, and Sennaya Ploshchad stations at about 3pm on Monday, according to multiple reports by Russian state media.
Later in the afternoon, the anti-terrorism committee said it had found and deactivated a second bomb at another St. Petersburg subway station, AP reported.
Speaking shortly after the explosion, Russian President Vladimir Putin said: “At the beginning of our meeting I want to express my condolences to the families of the victims and the injured. I already spoke to the heads of first responders, with the director of the FSB [Russia’s federal security service}. They are working and will do everything to find out the reasons why this happened and how it happened.
“The city leadership and, if needed, federal entities will do everything to provide support to the victims, our citizens. Unfortunately we are forced to begin our session with this tragic event. We don’t know the causes yet, it’s too soon to be talking about that. Investigation will show. We always look at all possibilities, the mundane and the criminal, acts of terrorism. And investigation will provide us with answers.”
Putin was in St. Petersburg, his hometown, for a meeting with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko at the time of the explosion.
But according to Alexander Kurennoy, head of the media relations at the Prosecutor General’s Office of Russia, “the explosion in the St. Petersburg metro was a terrorist act,” he told Russian media. The Prosecutor General’s Office will now launch a full investigation to “clarify all aspects that contributed to this terrorist attack and make sure this will not happen again in the future.”
Witness Lyudmila Vinnyk told TV channel Russia 24 that she was in one of the stations when the explosion occurred. “I was just making a change on that line where the emergency situation occurred. At this station all people were running. I smelt smoke, [there was] smoke, everyone were running fast to the escalator and towards the exit. A lot [of people], all running. All, of course, scared.”
Another witness, named Alex, told RT he was entering a different metro station as the blast happened. “The alarm went off and the security guards blocked off the entrance and said to get away from the place.”
The two stations, Technological Institute and Sennaya Ploshchad, are key stations in St. Petersburg’s metro system. They are both popular interchange stations close to the city center and are used by large numbers of commuters each day.
Soon after the two affected stations were evacuated, the entire Russian metro system was closed. Local taxi services have been asked to put the maximum number of cars on the road and reduce rates.
Federation Council security committee head Viktor Ozerov told RIA News they would support new anti-terrorist measures in the wake of the blast.“If special services and law enforcement agencies, after an analysis, suggest legislative measures, the council is ready to implement them,” Ozerov said.
He said not to jump to conclusions while cause of the incident has not been officially confirmed. “Only after this we will be able to say whether there will be an official reaction from the Council of the Federation.”In Moscow, Deputy Mayor Maxim Liksutov told the Russian state-run Interfax news agency that Moscow authorities were tightening security on the subway in the capital.
Maria Olson, the spokesperson at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, said on Twitter: “Shocked and saddened by explosions in St.Pete and the resulting deaths and injuries. Our hearts go out to victims and families.”
The US Embassy in Russia has issued emergency advice to Americans in the country. “Media reports explosions at the Metro stations Sennaya and Technological Institute. U.S. Citizens should avoid the area,” the embassy said in a statement.
Reporting by Victor Stepanov in Volgograd, Russia; Jane Lytvynenko in Toronto; and Francis Whittaker and Alicia Melville-Smith in London.