Firefighters combed the rubble with sniffer dogs after an explosion brought down the two-storey building in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, close to Italy’s border with Slovenia.

The incident reportedly occurred at 4:20 am.

Two bodies had been found by 9:00 am, while a third resident was found dead a few hours later, according to Italian news agency ANSA.

The building housed three apartments, two of them occupied and one empty.

The residents are said to have been a Slovenian couple and a person with disabilities.

Early reports suggested that the blast was caused by a gas leak after emergency services reported a strong smell of gas at the scene.

Gorizia’s deputy mayor, Stefano Ceretta, said that so far no evidence has been found of any problems in the gas network.