PARIS (AP) — A strong explosion hit a building in Paris’ Left Bank on Wednesday, leaving at least 16 injured and igniting a fire that sent smoke soaring over city monuments and prompted the evacuation of surrounding buildings, police said. The cause of the blast was not immediately known.
The facade of a building in the 5th arrondissement, or district, collapsed and emergency services were working to determine if anyone was still inside, a Paris police official said. The explosion hit near the historic Val de Grace military hospital.
Paris police chief Laurent Nunez told reporters there were 16 people injured, including seven in “emergency condition.” The fire was contained but not extinguished, he said.
Florence Berthout, mayor of the arrondissement, said, “The explosion was extremely violent,” describing pieces of glass still falling from buildings.
Nunez described several injuries, some of them critical, but did not provide an exact figure, nor did he specify whether any were in life-threatening condition.
The Paris prosecutor says a probe has been opened into aggravated involuntary injury, and investigators are examining whether the explosion stemmed from a suspected violation of safety rules.
Officials from the 5th arrondissement attributed the blast and blaze to a gas leak.
The Paris police chief says the building where the explosion occurred was a private school, the Paris American Academy, which was founded in 1965 and offers teaching in fashion design, interior design, fine arts and creative writing.
The smell of smoke lingered in the air while the gray plume visibly lessened as firefighters battled the blaze. The neighborhood was cordoned off and scores of emergency workers, police and soldiers filled the area.
Achille, a student, said he was in a building about 100 meters (yards) from the explosion.
“I was sitting on the windowsill, and we moved 2 meters away from the window, carried by a small blast (from the explosion) and huge fear,” he told BFM television. His last name was not given.
“We came down (from the building) and saw the flames,” he said. “The police gave us great support and we evacuated quickly.”
With more than 2 million people densely packed within the city limits and historic, sometimes ageing, infrastructure, Paris is no a stranger to gas explosions. A January 2019 blast in the 9th district killed four people and left dozens injured.