A possible gas explosion ripped off the side of a 5-story residential building in France's Champagne country on Sunday, killing at least two people and injuring at least ten others, officials said. Search teams extracted a victim's body as they pored over the rubble in a hunt for possible survivors.
More than 100 rescue workers, firefighters, sniffer-dog squads and bomb and gas experts were deployed to the gutted building in a subsidized housing complex in the city of Reims, east of Paris, officials said. Early pictures on the Web site of a local newspaper, L'Union L'Ardennais, showed heaps of debris spilling out of the building onto a grassy esplanade below, with two helmeted people perched on a crane for a look inside.
Reims mayor Adeline Hazan told France's BFM television that "a very powerful explosion" had taken place, blowing out windows of nearby buildings. She said the blast had the earmarks of a possible gas explosion but insisted that only a thorough investigation would determine the exact cause
"The explosion of a residential building in Reims is a terrible drama," said the office of French President Francois Hollande in a statement, conveying his condolences to the victims' relatives. It said two people had been killed and 10 injured.
Michel Bernard, the top government official in Reims, told The Associated Press that one person was seriously injured. He said the building dated to the 1960s, and an official investigation was under way to determine the cause. About 10 of the 40 or so apartments in the building were affected and a search for possible survivors under the rubble was under way, he said.
The precariousness of some buildings has come to light internationally in recent days following the collapse Wednesday of an 8-story building in a suburb of Dhaka, Bangladesh, where at least 362 people have been confirmed to have died. Officials there said three of the floors of that building, which had housed garment factories, had been built illegally.