“I thought it was a bomb”: At least four people were seriously injured in the center of Paris on Wednesday afternoon, according to a provisional report.
Police headquarters earlier in the evening announced that four people were in complete emergency and twenty-five people were in relative emergency. On the government side, two people trapped in the rubble of the building were being searched for.
About 270 firefighters were at the scene, in the former military hospital district of Val de Grace, in the 5th arrondissement.
“This is a provisional report” because “there are still searches under the ruins” but the fire “has been contained”, announced Police Chief Laurent Nunez during a press briefing at the site around 6:30 p.m.
He added that the 270 firefighters dispatched, mobilizing 70 engines, “prevented the fire from spreading to two adjacent buildings that were severely damaged by the blast” and “evacuated”.
Firefighters initially reported two buildings had collapsed. But only one building collapsed, police sources said.
Interior Minister Gerald Durman has decided to cut short a trip to Nancy to return to Paris, according to her entourage. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, whose services activated the crisis unit, is on the scene.
The facts occurred shortly before 5:00 pm at 277 rue Saint-Jacques, where the Paris American Academy, a private fashion school, is located, near the Notre-Dame du Val-de-Grace church.
Several witnesses and residents, interviewed by AFP, said they smelled gas and heard a “huge explosion”.
“It caused a very strong surge. I fell off my chair like everyone else,” said an official at the General Secretariat of Catholic Education (Sgec).
“There was a power outage earlier and someone from our house wanted to go out to check and noticed a strong smell of gas outside,” he added.
The Paris prosecutor’s office pointed out that at this stage there was “nothing to determine the origin of the disaster”, which opened an investigation “for arbitrary injuries by breach of prudence or duty of care”. Paris judicial police arrested.
“The first elements (…) lead us” to confirm that the explosion started from the building, announced at the scene the prosecutor of the Paris Republic, Laure Pecuault.
“We obviously rely on the victims to provide us with the first elements of the investigation and to understand what may have happened,” he added.
According to the mayor of the 5th arrondissement, Florence Berthoud, the sound of a “very large” explosion spread over “part of the arrondissement”. AFP reported that windows were blown out more than 400 meters from the building.
“10 Seconds of Extreme Anxiety”
Alexis, 23, who lives on Rue Saint-Jacques, described “smoke, debris and leaves (that were) flying”.
“We didn’t know if something was going to happen and we were going out into the street, we didn’t know if it was a terrorist. The building across the street was on fire, a lot of windows were blown out,” he added.
His sister Youssef, who lives on the ground floor of 273 rue Saint-Jacques, says, “He was sleeping when there was a loud explosion and he thought it was an attack.” “She didn’t understand anything. Things fell from her apartment and there were stones in the yard,” he added.
Another resident, who wished to remain anonymous, told AFP that “a huge explosion was heard and it rattled the windows”. “I thought it was an explosion. It echoed through the apartment. I had 10 seconds of extreme anxiety and many people were at the windows,” he continued.
A security perimeter has been established, the AFP journalist noted, but residents are allowed to enter a section of rue du Val de Grâce.
Wednesday drama recalls January 12, 2019. On that day, a powerful explosion caused by a gas leak on the rue de Trévise in the 9th arrondissement of Paris killed four people, including two firefighters, injured 66 and killed around 400.
“Total coffee junkie. Tv ninja. Unapologetic problem solver. Beer expert.”