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9 Apr, 2023 07:49

Building collapses in French city

People were thought to be trapped under the rubble while rescue efforts were hampered by fire, the mayor of Marseilles stated
Building collapses in French city

At least five people were injured after a four-story residential building collapsed and caused a major fire in the French port city of Marseilles, Mayor Benoit Payan has said. Locals told the media that they heard a “huge explosion” in the area overnight.

The building in the central district, known for its bars and restaurants, collapsed around 12:40am local time on Sunday, according to the mayor.

Five people sustained injuries in two neighboring properties, which were also damaged, Payan said. Residents have been evacuated from a number of houses in the vicinity, he added.

“We have to be prepared to have victims in this terrible tragedy,” the mayor said, adding that people could be inside the collapsed building.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who arrived in Marseilles on Sunday morning, said “four to a dozen people” could be trapped under debris. The fire was burning several meters under the rubble, which made it increasingly hard for the emergency services to extinguish it.

More than 100 firefighters were deployed to tackle the blaze, according to BFMTV.

“We’re trying to speed up the [operation] because time is of the essence,” but search dogs can’t work in such heat, the commander of the Marseille marine firefighters Lionel Mathieu said.

An investigation has been launched to determine the cause of the collapse. Regional prefect Christophe Mirmand told AFP there were “strong suspicions” that the incident had been the result of a gas leak.

The affected building was in good condition and “there was no danger code” for it, he noted.

One local resident told the media that he had heard “a huge explosion,” while another added that “everything shook” when the building collapsed.

Some witnesses claimed they even “smelled” gas shortly before the explosion, Le point magazine reports.

Another major building collapsed in Marseilles in 2018, when two dilapidated homes in the working-class district of Noailles were destroyed, killing eight people.