(Marseille) Eight people “do not respond to calls” after the collapse of a building on rue de Tivoli in the center of Marseille, caused by an explosion whose causes have not yet been determined, announced Sunday the prosecutor of the Republic of Marseilles.

More than 12 hours after “the very large explosion” followed by the collapse, around 12:40 a.m., of this building located at 17 rue de Tivoli, in a district of Marseille known for its cafes, restaurants and nightlife, a fire still rages under the rubble, preventing dogs and rescuers from searching for possible survivors.

“We believe that there are between four and a dozen people under the rubble, said Mr. Darmanin who came specially to the second city of France, during a press briefing with the mayor of Marseille Benoît Payan, who remained on the places all night.

It could still take “a few hours” to extinguish the fire and then send in the specialized dog teams, according to Mr. Darmanin.

“We don’t know who exactly was in that building. To our knowledge, there could have been a dozen people living in this building at this time of the morning. Four people appear to be there for sure. We don’t know if they are alive or dead, “said the Minister of the Interior to the press while some residents may have been absent on this long Easter weekend.

A reception center for people looking for a member of their family or a loved one they have not heard from has been set up and its reception areas filtered to preserve family privacy.

“There is a lot of anxiety among families in the neighborhood,” testified to AFP Arnaud Dupleix, the president of the parents’ association of the nearby Tivoli elementary school, which organizes a network of assistance for those who have had to leave their homes.

Thirty buildings were evacuated as a precaution. Housing Minister Olivier Klein, who will travel to Marseille on Monday, said this affected 179 people in four streets.

The collapse of 17 took much of the neighboring 15 in its wake and damaged 19. Five people, residents of these neighboring buildings, were injured, but “none are between life and death” and 33 in total were taken care of, according to MM. Darmanin and Payan.

About the origin of the tragedy, the minister considered that we could “not know today what caused this very large explosion”. “The judicial police of Marseilles is seized and will make the entire truth on these facts”, he added, the parquet floor having opened an investigation for “involuntary injuries”.

At the time of the explosion “everything shook, we saw people running and there was smoke everywhere, the building fell on the street,” Aziz, a man who preferred to keep his voice quiet, told AFP. last name, but said he ran a night food business on the street where the building collapsed.

The explosion was so violent that a family living in a perpendicular street told AFP that they saw their living room window slam open. A friend of their little girl living at 15 “is fortunately safe and sound”, said the father of the family on condition of anonymity.

“We quickly smelled a strong smell of gas, which stayed and we smelled it again this morning,” Savera Mosnier, a resident of a nearby street, told AFP.

The assistant in charge of security at the town hall of Marseille, Yannick Ohanessian, confirmed that several witnesses had mentioned “suspicious smells of gas”.

In November 2018, the collapse on rue d’Aubagne of two buildings in another district of central Marseille, Noailles, killed eight people and sparked a wave of indignation against poor housing in this city where 40,000 people live in slums, according to NGOs.

The hypothesis of unsanitary conditions in the building which collapsed on Sunday seems to have been ruled out.

“There was no danger decree for this building and it is not a district identified as having unsanitary housing,” said the prefect.

“Drawing the parallel (with rue d’Aubagne, editor’s note) is irresponsible […]. Nothing allows us to think that we are in symmetry, ”insisted the mayor.

Marseille has seen several fatal building collapses over the past 40 years.

On January 11, 1981, eight people died and 16 were injured in the poor neighborhood of Le Canet when their building collapsed.

Five people perished in 1985 in the accidental explosion of a building near the Boulevard du Prado and on July 20, 1996, a gas explosion blew up a seven-story building near the station, killing four and injuring 26.