Paris gas blast toll rises to 4 as a body was found in the rub­ble

Daily Observer (Jamaica) - - INTERNATIONAL -

PARIS, France (AFP) — The death toll from a pow­er­ful gas ex­plo­sion in cen­tral Paris has risen to four af­ter res­cue work­ers found a woman’s body in the rub­ble, in­ves­ti­ga­tors said yes­ter­day.

Two fire­fight­ers and a Span­ish tourist were also killed in the Satur­day morn­ing blast that in­jured dozens and badly dam­aged nearby apart­ments.

Res­cue work­ers with snif­fer dogs had ear­lier searched for a miss­ing woman who lived above the ex­plo­sion site and who was be­lieved to be in the rub­ble.

A source close to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion said the body could be that of the miss­ing woman.

The blast gut­ted the lower part of the build­ing which housed a bak­ery and a restau­rant, and also over­turned cars, leav­ing glass and rub­ble strewn across large swathes of the street.

Around 50 peo­ple were in­jured, nine of them se­ri­ously, in­clud­ing sev­eral for­eign tourists who were in the area to visit lo­cal at­trac­tions like the Musee Grevin wax mu­seum and the pop­u­lar Rue des Mar­tyrs.

A fire ser­vice spokesman said 40 fire­fight­ers were clear­ing the de­bris by hand on Sun­day due to the dan­ger­ous con­di­tions.

“We will only leave once ev­ery­thing is cleared, stone by stone, to be cer­tain there is no one else,” he said, in­di­cat­ing that such an op­er­a­tion could last for about a week.

Given the ex­tent of the dam­age, around 50 peo­ple were put up in tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Twelve build­ings re­main closed on Sun­day, with of­fi­cials say­ing the safety of each would be as­sessed.

In a city that has been shaken by a string of terror at­tacks in re­cent years, the huge blast jan­gled nerves.

“I was in bed when it hap­pened, I heard a muf­fled boom, it moved the build­ing,” said Sylvie, who lives close to Rue de Tre­viso where the ex­plo­sion oc­curred.

“I heard the sirens. I burst into tears.”

Oth­ers were out try­ing to re­pair some of the dam­age, with Philippe Beno­liel at­tach­ing wooden pan­els to the front of his tourism busi­ness that is lo­cated on the same street.

“When I ar­rived this morn­ing we found two win­dows blown off, glass shards ev­ery­where. The ex­plo­sion 200 me­tres away caused all that,” he said.

“It could have been worse — we don’t work on Satur­days.”

Lo­cal res­i­dent Soufi­ane, 28, was one of many peo­ple who came to lay flow­ers at the site. His bou­quet had a note say­ing “For Laura”, the Span­ish tourist who died.

“As soon as I heard the noise, I went out to see what was hap­pen­ing. I heard this Span­ish woman call­ing for help,” he said.

Her head was cov­ered in blood and she was taken to a nearby ho­tel where two doc­tors, still in their py­ja­mas, tried to help her, he said.

“When the am­bu­lance took her away, she was still alive.”

The blast was be­lieved to be ac­ci­den­tal, but Paris pros­e­cu­tor Remy Heitz re­mained cau­tious.

“At this stage, we do not ex­clude any hy­poth­e­sis,” he said.

Chris­tian Buf­fet of gas dis­trib­u­tor GRDF said it was “too early to iden­tify the cause” of the ex­plo­sion, which he called the largest and most se­ri­ous in more than a decade.

Many homes and build­ings in Paris use gas for heat­ing and cook­ing, though ex­plo­sions due to leaks are rel­a­tively rare.

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron tweeted his con­do­lences to the “fam­i­lies, loved ones and com­rades of the two hero fire­fight­ers”, adding that his thoughts were with all of the vic­tims.

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