France’s interior minister says that four people have been killed, including two firefighters, and 47 have been injured after a powerful blast at a bakery in central Paris that is believed to have been caused by a gas leak.
A blast ripped through the small Rue de Trevise in the 9th arrondissement of the French capital at around 9 am local time, overturning cars, blowing out windows and causing a large fire.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told reporters at the scene that “unfortunately the human toll is particularly serious.” President Emmanuel Macron said the firefighters were heroes.
He said 10 people are in critical condition and 37 others less seriously injured.
He paid homage to the courage of rescuers who saved the life of one firefighter who was buried under the rubble for two-and-a-half hours.
Among the dead was a Spanish woman who was holidaying in Paris with her husband, the Spanish foreign ministry said.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who was also at the scene, extended a “message of affection and solidarity” to the victims.
Parisian police tweeted to warn the public to “avoid the area and allow the passage of the emergency vehicles”.
Throughout the morning, Firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze and evacuate people from the building using ladders while emergency workers treated some of the injured at the scene.
— Préfecture de police (@prefpolice) January 12, 2019
The cause of the blast appeared to be an accidental gas leak, said Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz. Firefighters were already at the scene before the explosion to investigate the cause of the leak, he said.
The situation was “under control” by the time Mr Castaner visited the scene, which he described as shocking. Some 200 firefighters and police were involved in the operation to contain the situation he said.
Earlier, witnesses described an overwhelmingly loud blast and then hearing screams from people caught in nearby buildings.
“In the middle of nothing, I heard one big explosion and then a lot of pressure came at me [and] a lot of black smoke and glass,” Pedro Goncalves, an employee at the Hotel Mercure opposite the bakery, told the Associated Press. “And I had just enough time to get down and cover myself and protect my head.”
Mr Goncalves said he “felt a lot of things fall on me” and that he was struck by shattered glass. He had a few cuts on his head and spots of blood on his sweater and undershirt. He said that he ran for the exit and then went to check on the hotel’s clients, adding that some of them had head injuries and were bleeding. He said that the hotel was “destroyed” in the blast.
Leur mission : sauver des vies. Pour l’accomplir ils ont donné la leur. Solidarité aux familles, proches et camarades des deux héros sapeurs-pompiers morts aujourd’hui.
Pensées pour toutes les victimes de cette explosion.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) January 12, 2019
Images shared online showed the bakery as a blackened shell, with broken glass and charred debris littering the street outside. Many shops and buildings on the street and those immediately surrounding the explosion on Rue de Trevise had shattered windeows.
— matthieucroissandeau (@croissandeau) January 12, 2019
The capital was preparing for weekly protests by the yellow vest movement, which is railing against the economic policies of French President Emmanuel Macron.