A building exploded and collapsed early Sunday, leaving mounds of burning debris that hampered rescue operations.
Three bodies have been pulled from the remains of a building in the French port city of Marseille that exploded and collapsed early Sunday. Officials have said eight people remained missing.
More than 100 firefighters worked against a ticking clock to extinguish flames deep within the rubble of the five-story building, but more than 17 hours later “the situation is not yet stabilised,” Marseille Prosecutor Dominique Laurens said at an evening news conference.
Earlier in the day, officials had thought that between four and 10 people may have been trapped. Laurens said police have yet to confirm the apparent disappearance of a ninth person who lived in a next-door building. Five people suffered minor injuries from the collapse, which occurred shortly before 1 a.m.
Marseille Mayor Benoit Payan said two buildings that share walls with the one that collapsed were partially brought down before one later caved in, another complication in the search and rescue operation. The buildings were among the evacuated structures.
"If there are any living people left under the rubble, they must be safeguarded at all costs and this must be done in a surgical manner, if I may put it that way. And so it is stone by stone that we continue this work, that we will continue it all day. There is still hope and as long as there is hope, we will not stop," Payan said.
Drones and probes have been used to examine the scene for signs of life. The burning debris was too hot for dogs in the firefighters' canine team to work until Sunday afternoon, though smoke still bothered them, the prosecutor said.
“We cannot intervene in a very classic way,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said during a morning visit to the site. He said the fire was burning a few meters under the mounds of debris and that both water and foam represent a danger to victims’ survival.
An investigation has been opened for involuntary injury, at least initially sidestepping possible criminal intentions. A gas explosion was among the tracks to check, said Laurens, the prosecutor. But the start of the probe also was limited by the heat of the blaze.
“The flames weren't pink. They were blue,” Payan said.
Firefighters, with the help of urban rescue experts, worked through the night and all day Sunday in a slow race against time. The delicate operation aimed to keep firefighters safe, prevent further harm to people potentially trapped in the rubble and not compromise vulnerable buildings nearby. Some 30 buildings in the area were evacuated, Darmanin said.
“We heard an explosion ... a very strong explosion which made us jump, and that's it,” said Marie Ciret, who was among those evacuated. “We looked outside the window at what was happening. We saw smoke, rubble, and people running.”
The building that collapsed is located on a narrow street in the centre of Marseille, adding to an array of difficulties for firefighters and rescue workers.
The collapsed building is located in an old quarter in the centre of France’s second-largest city. The noise from the explosion resounded in other neighbourhoods. Nearby streets were blocked off.
In 2018, two buildings in the centre of Marseille collapsed, killing eight people. Those buildings were poorly maintained — not the case with the building that collapsed Sunday after an explosion, the interior minister said.
Watch Euronews' report in the video above.