Last Updated: June 22, 2023, 11:06 IST
An explosion caused by a gas leak in central Paris ripped through a building on Wednesday injuring at least 37 people and causing a wave of destruction.
The blast was followed by a major fire which caused the building, housing a fashion school, to collapse near Rue Saint Jacques in the city’s fifth arrondissement.
Rescue workers were in the evening still searching the rubble for two missing individuals who had not been accounted for, according to French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, while four people are in critical condition.
“It’s possible that we will find dead bodies tonight, or we will find them alive,” French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.
Images showed wreckage littering the area around the building, as the flames smouldered. Around 70 fire trucks and 270 firefighters battled the blaze. Nine doctors were also at the scene.
Several witnesses told AFP that they heard “a giant explosion”. The fire service had said there had been “an explosion” which had “caused the collapse of two buildings”, but police later said only one building had collapsed. Windows as far as 400 metres (440 yards) away were shattered.
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo assembled a crisis unit and wrote on Twitter: “My thoughts go first and foremost to the victims and their loved ones.”
The “violent” fire which broke out after the explosion has now been “contained”, Paris police chief Laurent Nunez said at the scene, adding that “work is still taking place under the rubble” to find any more possible victims.
The firefighters “prevented the spread of the fire to two adjoining buildings which were seriously destabilised by the explosion” and “were evacuated”, Nunez added.
Florence Berthout, mayor of the 5th district in central Paris, said the main building affected is a private fashion school — called Paris American Academy — adjoining the former Val-de-Grace military hospital.
According to the mayor, the noise of the “quite enormous” explosion spread “in part of the district”.
An investigation into the causes of the blast was launched immediately, prosecutors said.
Images from the site showed tall flames and smoke billowing from the building, situated at Place Alphonse-Laveran, close to the Luxembourg Gardens.
“It was like in the movies,” said Anthony Halbert, who runs a butcher’s shop in the same street as the destroyed building.
“We heard a second explosion, less than two minutes after the first, and we watched the front of the building crumble,” he said.
Alexis, a 23-year-old student living across from the building, said he heard “a huge bang”, and then his windows were blown out.
The locals have been stopped from returning to their homes in surrounding streets by authorities in the aftermath of the explosion.
(With inputs from agencies)