(Marseille) Twenty-four hours after the gigantic explosion which blew up a four-storey building in Marseille, in the south of France, the emergency services discovered the first two bodies in the rubble, out of eight people presumed missing.

“Two lifeless bodies” were discovered, firefighters said in a statement shortly after 1 a.m. Monday. But “given the particular difficulties of intervention, the extraction (of the bodies from the site) will take time”.

“This night the pain and the pain are great”, reacted in a press release the mayor of Marseille, Benoît Payan, on site from the start to coordinate the operations.

“We continue to do everything to carry out the rescue operations”, he continued, assuring that “all the services of the City, accompanied by the services of the State, are always, at this very moment, fully committed to further research”.

The public prosecutor of Marseille had indicated earlier on Sunday that the rescue services were still looking for eight people presumed missing in the rubble of a four-storey building in a central district, which was blown up overnight from Saturday to Sunday by an explosion.

Since the start of the rescue operations, the work of the rescuers has been hampered by a persistent fire under the rubble.

The intervention of the rescue dogs was particularly complicated by these very difficult conditions.

The explosion, “extremely violent” according to prosecutor Dominique Laurens, occurred at 12:46 a.m. Sunday, as evidenced by the surveillance cameras that captured it.

17 rue de Tivoli, a building housing five apartments in a rather residential area of ​​the city center, was completely blown up. The two adjoining buildings were badly damaged, but all their occupants were able to escape or be saved by firefighters.

One of these buildings collapsed later in the day, burying the scene under even more rubble but without injuring the rescuers. The other is also threatening to collapse.

The eight missing are “people of a certain age and a young couple in their thirties”, but there would be no children or minors, Ms. Laurens said. She also mentioned a ninth person “who is currently wanted at 19 rue de Tivoli”.

Five people were lightly injured and a total of 33 “affected”, authorities said. Sign of the devastating effects of the explosion, 199 inhabitants of the district – representing 90 homes – had to be evacuated and 50 requested emergency relocation.

During the explosion “everything shook, we saw people running and there was smoke everywhere, the building fell on the street,” Aziz, a man who preferred not to mention his name, told AFP. family, but declared that he had a night food business in rue de Tivoli.

The cause of the explosion was “impossible” to establish at the end of the day on Sunday, according to the prosecutor, in particular because of the impossibility for the forensic experts to access the unsecured site.

But “gas is obviously part of the tracks”, she indicated, as before her the prefect of Bouches-du-Rhône or the deputy in charge of security at the town hall of Marseille, Yannick Ohanessian, according to whom several witnesses spoke of “suspicious smells of gas”.

“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.

All sources therefore insist on the difference with a previous collapse of two buildings, unsanitary these, in November 2018, rue d’Aubagne, in another district of central Marseille.

This tragedy left eight people dead and traumatized the population, sparking a wave of indignation against poor housing in this city where 40,000 people live in slums, according to NGOs.

“These are not unsanitary buildings at all”, underlined the prosecutor, while Mr. Payan hammered that “to draw a parallel (with rue d’Aubagne, editor’s note) would be irresponsible”.

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

On January 11, 1981, the collapse of a building left eight dead and 16 injured in the poor district of Canet.

Five people died 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-storey building near the station, killing four and injuring 26.