A fiery gas explosion in central Paris wounded at least 37 people and drew hundreds of firefighters to the scene on Wednesday afternoon.
Some 270 firefighters were deployed to the scene near Rue Saint Jacques in the city’s fifth arrondissement, and have contained the fire, Paris police chief Laurent Nunez told reporters.
Four people remain in critical condition, and officials say rescue workers are looking for at least two people thought to be missing in the rubble.
“It’s possible that we will find dead bodies tonight, or we will find them alive,” French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said from the explosion scene.
He said that investigators still don’t know how the gas explosion occurred, adding: “There was no alarm sent out before the incident.”
The Paris prosecutor, probing the incident said that early signs indicate that the gas explosion came from within the building that houses the Paris American Academy, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.
Laure Beccuau, who visited the scene, said investigators would be leaning on accounts from injured persons in their inquiry.
A part of the building collapsed following the blast and fire, videos show. Smoke billowed from the rubble on Wednesday as rescue workers attempted to tackle the blaze.
Paris American Academy, a fashion and design school, describes itself on its website as the “first bilingual design school” in the French capital.
In the US state of Ohio, Kent State University said all its students at the Paris American Academy are safe and accounted for following the blast.
Locals were also stopped from returning to their homes in surrounding streets by authorities in the aftermath of the explosion.
One woman, Anne, told at the scene that she was inside her flat, around 500 meters (1,640 feet) from the site, when the explosion happened.
“It felt like an earthquake, the windows banged against each other,” she said.
Another woman who didn’t want to give her name and lives in a neighbouring avenue told that her doors slammed shut from the explosion.
The local deputy mayor Édouard Civel later tweeted that a gas explosion had caused the impact.
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo visited the scene later on Wednesday, writing in a tweet, “My thoughts go first of all to the victims and their close ones.”
Authorities in Paris have opened an emergency response unit to handle the explosion’s aftermath.
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