Paris bakery explosion kills three, injures dozens as authorities blame gas leak for ‘accidental’ blast
Two French firefighters and a Spanish citizen died and nearly people 50 were injured in a gas explosion that gutted the ground floor of a building in a central Paris shopping district on Saturday, authorities say.
- Authorities have said the explosion had no probable malicious intent
- Firefighters were already attending to reports of a gas leak when the blast struck
- Ten people, including two firefighters, are in hospital in a critical condition
France’s Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, who incorrectly reported four fatalities, told reporters at the scene “unfortunately the human toll is particularly serious”.
“As firemen were looking for a gas leak in the building, a dramatic explosion took place,” Mr Castaner said, adding that one of the firemen had been buried under debris for several hours.
He said 10 people were in critical condition and 37 others were less seriously injured.
He paid homage to the courage of rescuers who saved the life of one firefighter buried for hours.
Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell wrote on his Twitter feed that a Spanish woman had also died in the blast. French authorities did not immediately confirm the third death.
Spanish newspaper El Confidencial reported that the woman was a tourist visiting Paris with her husband, who was unharmed.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who was also at the scene, extended a “message of affection and solidarity” to the victims.
Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said “at this stage we can say it seems from accidental origin, this would be a gas leak”.
He said that Paris firefighters were already at the scene for a suspected gas leak on Saturday morning when the explosion happened.
Investigations are ongoing to determine the exact cause of the blast.
Authorities were on high alert in the French capital for a ninth consecutive weekend of “yellow vest” protests, with large parts of the city centre blocked off by riot police.
The force of the blast shattered nearby storefronts and rocked buildings hundreds of metres away, witnesses said.
“The situation is now under control,” Mr Castaner said.
He said more than 200 firemen were involved in the rescue operation.
People in surrounding buildings were trapped in their buildings as broken glass and other debris cloaked the street.
(AP: Thibault Camus)
Witnesses described the overwhelming sound of the blast. Charred debris and broken glass covered the pavement around the apartment building housing the bakery, which resembled a blackened carcass.
An eyewitness who was staying at a hotel nearby said he saw a huge fire erupt in the building blown out by the blast.
“There was broken glass everywhere, storefronts were blown out and windows were shattered up to the third and fourth floors,” 38-year-old David Bangura said.
He said that as he approached the scene, a woman was crying for help from the first floor of a building: “Help us, help us, we have a child”.
More than 200 firefighters joined the rescue operation and two helicopters landed on the nearby Place de l’Opera to evacuate victims.
Ambulances struggled to access the blast area because of police barriers set up to contain any violence by yellow vest protesters.
A rescue helicopter was called to Paris’s Place de l’Opera to airlift the wounded. (AP: Thibault Camus)