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Search continues at site of Paris fashion school hit by explosion

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Search continues at site of Paris fashion school hit by explosion
Flames emerging from the destruction and rubble in the immediate aftermath of an explosion in a building on Rue Saint-Jacques, Paris. Photo by Gregory Custo / AFP

Emergency rescue workers on Thursday continued to search through the rubble of a building in central Paris that was destroyed by what is believed to be a gas explosion. One person remains unaccounted for.

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Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the search continued to find a person reported as missing after an explosion rocked the building that housed the Paris American Academy fashion in central Paris on Wednesday.

The explosion believed to be caused by a gas leak ripped through the historic building in central Paris on Wednesday, causing a wave of destruction in the historic Latin Quarter of the city, officials said.

The blast happened at around 5pm on Rue Saint-Jacques in the central fifth arrondissement of the French capital. It caused a huge fire, while plumes of thick smoke could be seen rising above the Paris skyline.

Giving the latest update on injuries Hidalgo said four people remain critically injured and 35 had lighter injuries. Earlier on Thursday the injury toll was reported as six seriously injured and over 50 with lighter injuries.

Paris deputy mayor Emmanuel Grégoire initially said that the search had been called off after two missing people were accounted for, but firefighters on Thursday said that the search continued with one person still missing.

"Among the two people who were being sought in the rubble, it turned out that one had already been admitted to hospital," the prosecutor's office said, according to AFP.

"The search continues for the second," it added, cautioning: "These figures could still change."

Smoke billows from a building at Place Alphonse-Laveran in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, on June 21, 2023. (Photo by ABDULMONAM EASSA / AFP)

The explosion caused the building that houses the Paris American Academy, a private design and fashion school which is popular with exchange students from the USA, to collapse.

According to the mother of one of the students, writing on the school's Facebook account, the classrooms were empty at the time because students were attending a Paris Fashion Week show.

"The toll could have been higher," Paris deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire told FranceInfo radio.

Some 70 fire engines and 270 firefighters battled to contain the fire caused by the explosion.

On Thursday, the security cordon was reduced, allowing journalists and gawkers closer to the heap of rubble in front of the structure, just opposite the Val-de-Grace military hospital.

A single fire hose was still sporadically spraying the remains of the building, while some nearby shops had reopened.

"There was no warning before this explosion. We don't know its origin at this stage," Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told a press briefing at the scene on Wednesday night. Initial reports, however, said a gas leak was the likely cause of the explosion. 

Several also witnesses reported a strong smell of gas at the site after the explosion.

READ ALSO What do we know about the Paris American Academy?

On Wednesday, Paris police chief Laurent Nunez had said: "An explosion occurred inside a building that houses the Paris American Academy at 4.55pm that caused a huge fire. Paris firefighters were on the scene quickly with several surrounding buildings evacuated and a huge police cordon set up around the site.

"Two nearby buildings were seriously damaged by the explosion and were evacuated."

The shockwave knocked out windows up to 400 metres away.

Images posted on social media showed fire and plumes of black smoke rising from a destroyed building on the street. Piles of rubble could be strewn across the road in front of the destroyed building.

 

Paris public prosecutor Laure Beccuau, who visited the scene, said: "An initial study of CCTV cameras belonging to the City of Paris points to an explosion originating in the building (which houses the Paris American Academy)."

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One student named Quentin told Le Parisien newspaper: "I heard an enormous boom and then I saw a fireball rise 20 to 30 metres into the sky and then the building collapsed. I could smell gas but it took me a while to get myself together."

The Police préfecture was quick to discount terrorism and say the suspected cause was a gas explosion.

This general view shows smoke rising from a building at Place Alphonse-Laveran near the dome of the Church of the Val-de-Grâce (L) in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, on June 21, 2023. (Photo by Ian LANGSDON / AFP)
 
Smoke billows from rubble of a building at Place Alphonse-Laveran in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, on June 21, 2023. (Photo by ABDULMONAM EASSA / AFP)

Another witness told Le Parisien: "We thought it was a terror attack. We heard a huge explosion, that lasted a long time, that shook our bodies. It was like something out of a film."

 

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As of Thursday morning, at least 100 people were unable to reach their homes in the nearby area, according to an estimate by the 5th arrondissement town hall.

Around 60 people were rehoused by local authorities on Wednesday evening, according to BFMTV. 

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The Paris American Academy (PAA) is popular with exchange students from the USA.

Kent State University in Ohio said that nine of its students were attending a summer programme at the PAA and all are safe.

Kent spokesman Eric Mansfield added that plans are being made for the students to return early to the US.

The image below from Google Street view shows the school at 277 Rue Saint Jacques.

The Paris American Academy fashion school seen on Google Street view.

 

 

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