A powerful explosion tore through a building in central Paris yesterday, killing two firefighters, injuring dozens of people and causing extensive damage to nearby buildings, officials said. Around 200 firefighters were mobilised to battle the fire that broke out after the blast and evacuates victims and residents in the area, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told reporters at the scene. The explosion came with the city on edge during the latest “yellow vest” anti-government demonstrations, which have often degenerated into violence and vandalism in Paris and other cities in recent weeks.
“It happened when there were people in the street, and firefighters inside,” Castaner said. Around 100 police officers blocked off several streets in the area, home to restaurants and tourist attractions including the Musee Grevin wax museum and the popular Rue des Martyrs. Police also closed off streets in front of the Garnier Opera house as emergency services landed two helicopters in front of the historic building to evacuate victims.
Besides the two dead firefighters, 47 people were injured in the blast, 10 of them seriously, the Paris prosecutor’s office said. The explosion occurred shortly after 9:00 am (0800 GMT) in the building that housed a bakery as well as a restaurant on the ground floor in the Ninth Arrondissement.
The shockwave was felt as far as four blocks away, Commander Eric Moulin of the Paris fire service said, adding that rescuers were still searching for other victims. “I was sleeping and woke up by the blast wave,” Claire Sallavuard, who lives on the Rue de Trevise where the explosion occurred, told AFP. “All the windows in the apartment exploded, doors were blown off their hinges, I had to walk on the door to leave the room, all the kids were panicking, they couldn’t get out of their room,” she said.
“Firefighters advised us to leave but the elevator shaft had been blown out, there was no railing, nothing, and there was too much smoke,” she added. Rescuers eventually used a ladder to evacuate the family, who lived on the first floor.