Dozens injured after fiery gas explosion in central Paris

By Joseph Ataman, Niamh Kennedy and Xiaofei Xu, CNN

A fiery gas explosion in central Paris resulted in injuries to 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 scene of the explosion.

Investigators still don’t know how the gas explosion occurred, he said, adding: “There was no alarm sent out before the incident.”

The Paris prosecutor, who is 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 will be leaning on accounts from injured persons in their inquiry.

A part of the building collapsed following the blast and fire, videos show. Smoke was seen billowing from the rubble earlier 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.

Smoke billows from a building in the 5th arrondissement of Paris.
Smoke billows from a building in the 5th arrondissement of Paris. Photo credit: CNN / Abdulmonam Eassa / AFP / Getty Images

Kent State University, in the US state of Ohio, said all its students at the Paris American Academy are safe and accounted 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 a CNN producer 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 neighboring avenue told CNN that her doors slammed shut from the explosion.

The local deputy mayor Édouard Civel later explained in a tweet that the impact had been caused by a gas explosion.

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 aftermath of the explosion.