A powerful blast rocked a street near Paris’ historic Latin Quarter on Wednesday, leaving at least 37 people injured and causing a partial collapse of a building. Rescue teams are now diligently searching for two individuals who are feared to be trapped under the debris.
The explosion occurred on Rue Saint-Jacques, a prominent thoroughfare that stretches from the iconic Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral to Sorbonne University. Among the injured, four individuals are currently fighting for their lives in the hospital, while search efforts continue to locate the missing persons.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin revealed that sniffer dogs have detected a scent beneath the mound of rubble strewn across Rue Saint-Jacques. “It is possible tonight that we will find bodies or perhaps survivors,” stated Darmanin during a press briefing at the blast site.
The blast resulted in the destruction of the facade of a building that housed the Paris American Academy design school, a popular institution among international students. Witnesses described a deafening explosion followed by a massive fireball soaring several stories high.
To ensure public safety, soldiers assisted in establishing a secure perimeter around the affected area. Although the Paris prosecutor’s office refrained from drawing any conclusions regarding the cause of the blast, local deputy mayor Edouard Civel mentioned a gas explosion in a tweet. Witnesses also reported a strong smell of gas prior to the incident.
Rahman Oliur, who manages a food shop nearby, recounted the intense impact of the explosion, stating, “The shop shook violently, it felt like a bomb blast.” Khal Ilsey, a bar worker, described hearing a “huge explosion” before witnessing a fierce blaze at the end of the street.
The explosion took place at 4:55 PM (1455 GMT) when many workers were heading home. Although the area is frequently visited by tourists and foreign students, there is no immediate indication that any foreigners were among the casualties.
As a precautionary measure, several nearby buildings were evacuated. Even hours after the blast, emergency responders were still providing support to residents suffering from shock, with one woman fainting on the street.
Paris Prosecutor Laure Beccuau stated that initial investigations suggest the blast originated from within the collapsed building. Investigators will examine whether building regulations were violated or if any individual acted negligently.
Over 300 firefighters were involved in extinguishing the resulting fires and bringing the situation under control.
Rue Saint-Jacques traverses the Latin Quarter, renowned as a hub for expatriate writers, musicians, and artists throughout history, before reaching the Val de Grace military hospital. It is also a short distance from the popular Jardin du Luxembourg.
Witness Monique Mosser, an art historian, described her experience during the blast, saying, “I was at home writing… I thought it was a bomb.” She added that the shockwave shattered numerous windows in her building. When alerted by a neighbor about the need to evacuate, she quickly gathered her laptop and phone, neglecting to take her medication in the rush.
This incident follows a gas leak explosion in January 2019 that claimed four lives and injured 66 in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. Additionally, in April of the same year, a fire ravaged the Notre Dame Cathedral, resulting in significant roof damage and other structural losses before it was eventually extinguished.