A possible gas explosion has ripped off the side of a five-story residential building in France’s Champagne province, killing up to three people and injuring at least ten others, officials have said.
Search teams uncovered a victim’s body as they scoured through the rubble in a hunt for possible survivors on Sunday.
More than 100 rescue workers, firefighters, sniffer-dog squads and bomb and gas experts were deployed to the damaged building in a housing complex in the city of Reims, east of Paris, officials said.
Reims Mayor Adeline Hazan said that the cause of the explosion was still under investigation, but it had the earmarks of a possible gas explosion.
“We do not know the cause of the explosion, it was probably a gas explosion,” she said.
“At this moment we know that two people are dead, but we don’t know their identity, there are 10 people not seriously injured, and one with serious injuries, they were all transported to the CHU [university hospital centre],” Hazan said, adding that the death toll was not definitive because a number of people were still being looked for.
“The explosion of a residential building in Reims is a terrible drama,” the office of French President Francois Hollande said in a statement, conveying his condolences to the victims’ relatives.
Michel Bernard, the top government official in Reims, told The Associated Press that one person was seriously injured.
He said the building dated to the 1960s, and an official investigation was under way to determine the cause.
About 10 of the 40 or so apartments in the building were affected and a search for possible survivors under the rubble was under way, he said.
A local resident, Abdel Kader, said he saw a man calling for help when he arrived at the scene, and added that under the man, he saw “a slab of concrete with a child with an arm out”.
Abdel Kader also said that it took some time to rescue teams to arrive to the scene.
“Firemen arrived after twenty minutes, half an hour, however, they’re not far away, just 500 metres (from here),” he said.