‘The num­ber one prob­lem in Paris is gas’

The Irish Times - - World News - LARA MAR­LOWE in Paris

In­hab­i­tants of Paris’s ninth dis­trict feared an earth­quake, plane crash or bomb, when a pow­er­ful ex­plo­sion at 6, rue de Tre­vise, killed at least four peo­ple and in­jured 50 oth­ers, 10 se­ri­ously, just be­fore 9am on Satur­day.

In­juries in­cluded smoke in­hala­tion, burns and bro­ken bones or wounds from fly­ing de­bris.

A woman liv­ing on the sec­ond floor of the build­ing called the fire bri­gade at 8.45am to com­plain of a strong smell of gas. Fire­men ar­rived 10 min­utes later, just be­fore the ex­plo­sion which gut­ted the ground floor of Hu­bert bak­ery, the base­ment and first floor of the build­ing.

Au­thor­i­ties do not know if the gas leak oc­curred in the bak­ery, which was closed, the ad­ja­cent restau­rant or the base­ment.

Two fire­men were killed, Si­mon Car­tan­naz (28) from the French alps and Nathanael Jos­selin (27) from Bur­gundy. “They took the full force of the blast,” said Eric Moulin of the Paris fire depart­ment. A crowd­fund­ing web­site raised ¤12,000 for the fam­i­lies of the fire­men by yes­ter­day morn­ing.

Laura Sanz Nombela (38) from Burgil­los, near Toledo, died hours later in hos­pi­tal. The Span­ish mother-of-three was spend­ing a week’s hol­i­day with her hus­band at the ho­tel across the street.

The body of the fourth fa­tal­ity, a woman who lived on the first floor di­rectly above the ex­plo­sion, was found buried in de­bris yes­ter­day.

A third fire­man, Maxime Acard, was buried for two hours be­fore he was dug out by col­leagues. He is hos­pi­talised in se­ri­ous con­di­tion, but his life is no longer in dan­ger.

The ex­plo­sion is be­lieved to have been caused by a gas leak, “but we’re not ex­clud­ing any pos­si­bil­ity”, said Paris prose­cu­tor Rémy Heitz. The ju­di­ciary po­lice have opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Dazed res­i­dents of the area wan­dered out of apart­ments and ho­tels into the street, some bleed­ing and oth­ers wear­ing un­der­clothes or py­ja­mas. Build­ings

were dam­aged in the rues de Tre­vise, Mon­tyon, Sainte-Cé­cile and Bergère, over a ra­dius of 100m. The res­i­dents of 12 build­ings will not be al­lowed to re­turn un­til ex­perts cer­tify the struc­tures are safe – “sev­eral days at a min­i­mum”, said first deputy mayor of Paris Em­manuel Gré­groire.

The town hall of the ninth dis­trict was turned into an emer­gency cen­tre, dis­pens­ing food, bev­er­ages and psy­cho­log­i­cal coun­selling. Face­book ac­ti­vated its “Safety Check” fea­ture, which is usu­ally used to en­able in­di­vid­u­als to re­as­sure loved ones that they have sur­vived a ter­ror­ist at­tack or nat­u­ral dis­as­ter.

About 150 peo­ple were placed in tem­po­rary lodg­ing at a gym­na­sium in the ad­ja­cent 10th dis­trict, in ho­tels and in the homes of vol­un­teers.

Res­cue he­li­copters landed and took off from the square in front of the Opera Garnier, be­cause de­mon­stra­tions by gilets jaunes pro­test­ers had blocked many streets.

Con­ser­va­tive city Cllr Alexan­dre Ves­perini, who is a mem­ber of the gas safety com­mis­sion, sparked a con­tro­versy by telling Le Parisien news­pa­per that the Paris net­work, which is more than a cen­tury old, “is in a state of ad­vanced and cat­a­strophic de­crepi­tude . . . When you talk to fire­men they tell you, ‘the num­ber one prob­lem in Paris is gas’.”

The ecol­ogy min­istry says 52 peo­ple died be­tween 2010 and 2014 in ac­ci­dents due to nat­u­ral gas and gas can­nis­ters. Mr Ves­perini sug­gested it might be nec­es­sary to change to an all elec­tric sys­tem.

Mayor of the ninth dis­trict Del­phine Burk­li­called Mr Ves­perini’s al­le­ga­tions “in­de­cent”. She said it was “time to help the vic­tims and or­gan­ise as­sis­tance, not this kind of de­bate”.

The gas com­pany GRDF said it spends ¤50 mil­lion an­nu­ally to main­tain the net­work and that 40km of gas pipes have been ren­o­vated.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: CARL LABROSSE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The af­ter­math of Satur­day’s gas ex­plo­sion.

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