A devastating blast occurred in Paris’ historically rich Latin Quarter, leading to an extensive search for two individuals believed to be trapped under the debris of a partially collapsed building.
The late afternoon explosion happened on Rue Saint-Jacques, a street extending from Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral to Sorbonne University, wounding at least 37 individuals. Four of the victims are critically injured and currently battling for their lives in a hospital.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin confirmed that search dogs had detected human scent beneath the brick and mortar debris scattered across Rue Saint-Jacques. “There’s a possibility that we might find bodies or perhaps survivors tonight,” Darmanin relayed to reporters at the explosion site.
The Paris American Academy design school, favored by international students and housed in the affected building, suffered significant damage to its facade due to the blast.
Eyewitnesses recounted a thunderous blast followed by a massive fireball ascending several stories. Military personnel were deployed to establish a safety perimeter around the affected area.
While the cause of the explosion remains under investigation by the Paris prosecutor’s office, local Deputy Mayor Edouard Civel alluded to a gas explosion on Twitter. Witnesses shared with BFM TV that they had detected a strong odor of gas immediately before the blast.
Rahman Oliur, manager of a food store located a few doors away from the American Academy, compared the intensity of the tremor to a bomb blast. Similarly, bar worker Khal Ilsey recalled hearing a “massive explosion” and witnessing a roaring fire at the street end.
The explosion occurred at 4:55pm (GMT 1455), a typical time for workers to be returning home. Although the Latin Quarter is a popular spot for tourists and foreign students, especially during the early summer, there is no current indication that any foreigners are among the casualties.
The aftermath of the explosion required the evacuation of several neighboring buildings. First responders continued to aid shocked residents even two hours post-incident.
Paris Prosecutor Laure Beccuau revealed preliminary investigations suggest that the explosion might have originated from within the collapsed building. She added that the investigation would explore possible breaches of building regulations or instances of negligence.
Over 300 firefighters contributed to extinguishing the subsequent fires. The blast-affected Rue Saint-Jacques is renowned for being the residence of several French and expatriate writers, musicians, and artists over the years, connecting the Latin Quarter to the Val de Grace military hospital and being in close proximity to the renowned Jardin du Luxembourg.
Monique Mosser, an art historian living in the area, recalled the startling explosion. “I was at home writing… I assumed it was a bomb,” she said. The powerful shockwave of the explosion had shattered numerous windows in her building.
In the wake of previous similar incidents, this blast brings back memories of January 2019, when a gas leak caused an explosion in the 9th arrondissement, leading to 4 fatalities and 66 injuries. Furthermore, in April the same year, a fire caused extensive damage to the Notre-Dame Cathedral, obliterating a significant portion of the roof.