Three firefighters investigating a suspected gas leak were among 12 people critically injured after a massive explosion in Paris on Saturday.
At least 24 other people were hurt in the blast, in the 9th arrondissement in the north of the capital, which seriously damaged several buildings and shattered windows for hundreds of metres.
Vehicles parked in nearby street were overturned and set alight by the force of the explosion, which reportedly happened in a boulangerie in Rue de Trévise.
The blast happened as Paris prepared for a ninth weekend of gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protests across the city and elsewhere in France.
One of the critically injured firefighters was buried in the rubble after the blast. It took his colleagues a while to bring him out.
The prime minister, Édouard Philippe, and the interior minister, Christophe Castaner, visited the scene of the explosion.
“The toll is heavy, it’s serious,” Castaner told journalists.
The explosion, which happened just before 9am, was heard a mile away. Dozens of firefighters, police and ambulances rushed to the scene and rapidly sealed off surrounding streets, many of them cloaked in a thick cloud of acrid smoke.
The boulanger, Hubert Beatrix, watched shocked as dozens of firefighters struggled to put out the blaze and evacuate residents of nearby buildings.
“I have no idea what happened. There’s no gas in my shop. My ovens are electric,” Beatrix told the Guardian. “The shop was closed, luckily for me and my customers. Someone called me to tell me about this, but I still don’t know what happened.”
Commander Eric Moulin, of the Paris fire service, said: “Of those who are in a critical condition, two fire officers and three civilians have life-threatening injures. One of the firefighters was out for several minutes and rescued by his colleagues.”
The bakery was almost entirely destroyed, leaving a few columns holding up the rest of the six-storey building.
Place de l’Opera nearby was cleared to allow three emergency helicopters to land in order to evacuate the injured from the explosion.
One female resident said: “The neighbours called the fire service because there was a very strong smell of gas this morning. Fire officers knocked on doors to tell us to stay where we were and shortly after that there was an explosion. There’s nothing left of our apartment. Nothing.”
Killian, a local resident, said it was carnage. “The windows were blown out. It was horrible.”
Source: The Guardian