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Gas cylinder blast kills 25 in central India: police

A powerful gas cylinder explosion in a packed restaurant in India's Madhya Pradesh state left 25 people dead Saturday, police said.  

   The death toll rose after rescuers recovered five more bodies from the debris of the shattered restaurant and surrounding buildings. 

   The blast occurred at around 8:30 am (0300 GMT) at the restaurant in the town of Petlawad in Jhabua district, as dozens of office workers and schoolchildren were having breakfast, senior district police official Seema Alava said.

   "We have recovered 25 bodies. Rescue efforts are still (going) on, so I can't say exactly how many may be trapped inside the debris," Alava, additional police superintendent for Jhabua, told AFP by phone.   

   "The restaurant was in a tightly packed locality and a lot of people were here having breakfast, that is why the casualties are so high," she said earlier, adding that some 35 injured had been rushed to a nearby hospital.

   Alava said the intensity of the blast knocked down a neighbouring building and damaged several others. 

   Television footage showed scores of people and rescue workers using their bare hands to shift mangled heaps of steel and concrete of the ruined buildings while police cordoned off the area.

   Bodies covered in dust and ash lay in the streets alongside the twisted wreckage of burned vehicles.

   Another district police official, Anurag Mishra, cited the restaurant's proximity to a busy bus stand as a reason for the high number of casualties.

   Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan took to Twitter to express his sadness at the loss of life.

   "The Jhabua tragedy is heart wrenching. I offer my condolences to the families of the victims and pray for the speedy recovery of those injured,"

Chouhan said.

   He offered compensation of 200,000 rupees ($3,020) to the families of the dead and 50,000 rupees ($755) to help the injured victims. 

   Domestic gas cylinder explosions are common in India, where safety standards are relatively poor.

   But although reports of fatal accidents from cylinder blasts are frequent, mass casualties are unusual.(AFP)