Three killed in gas explosion at Paris bakery

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A powerful explosion and fire apparently caused by a gas leak at a Paris bakery Saturday killed two firefighters and a Spanish national and injured 46 others, according to French and Spanish authorities.

Authorities said nine people were in critical condition and 37 others less seriously injured.

“As firemen were looking for a gas leak in the building, a dramatic explosion took place,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said, adding that one of the firemen had been buried under debris for several hours.

An investigation has been opened to determine the exact cause of the blast, authorities said.

Witnesses described the overwhelming sound of the blast and people trapped inside nearby buildings. Charred debris and broken glass covered the pavement around the apartment building housing the bakery, which resembled a blackened carcass.

Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said the cause of the blast appeared to be an accidental gas leak. He said Paris firefighters were already at the scene to investigate a suspected gas leak at the bakery when the explosion happened about 9am.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell tweeted that “I deeply regret the death of three people after the explosion in central Paris, including a Spanish woman.” He paid his condolences to her relatives and sent “wishes for a quick recovery to the other injured Spaniard.”

The Spanish newspaper El Pais reported the woman was a tourist staying in a hotel near the bakery, which is around the corner from the Folies-Bergere theater and not far from the Paris shopping district that includes the famed headquarters of Galeries Lafayette.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo extended a “message of affection and solidarity” to the victims. She said many residents and tourists had been evacuated from neighbouring buildings and hotels and Paris authorities were helping to provide them temporary accommodations.

Authorities said around 200 firefighters and police were involved in the operation. A helicopter evacuated the wounded. Silver-helmeted firefighters and red firetrucks filled the street and inspected adjoining courtyards.

‘A lot of black smoke and glass’

Pedro Goncalves, an employee at the Hotel Mercure opposite the bakery, said he saw firefighters enter the bakery in the morning but he and his co-workers “thought maybe it’s a joke, a false alarm,” and they went back to work.

About an hour later, he said a blast rocked the surrounding streets, one so powerful that he felt a whistling in his ears.

“I heard one big explosion and then a lot of pressure came at me, a lot of black smoke and glass,” he said. “I had just enough time to get down and cover myself and protect my head.”

Goncalves, who was struck by shattered glass, had cuts on his head and spots of blood on his sweater and undershirt. He ran for the exit and then went back to check on the hotel’s clients, adding that some of them had head injuries and were bleeding. He said the hotel was “destroyed” in the blast.

“Thank God I’m OK,” he said.

The explosion came as the French capital was on edge and under heavy security for yellow vest protests Saturday against economic inequality. Authorities said 32,000 protesters took to the streets around the country.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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