(Marseille) “Between four and a dozen people” are still under the rubble of a building which collapsed brutally, after an explosion, in the center of Marseille on Sunday night, also causing five minor injuries, announced Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.

Nearly 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 violent fire is still raging under the rubble, preventing dogs and rescuers from looking for possible survivors.

“We believe there are between four and ten people under the rubble. The fire is still ongoing, “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 scene all night.

“If there were to be any survivors, the water or foam used by the firefighters should not be able to prevent them from surviving,” he insisted, estimating that it could still take “a few hours” to put out the fire, then send the specialized dog teams.

“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.

“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 mutual aid.

About 30 buildings were evacuated as a precaution because the collapse of 17 took in its wake a large part of the neighboring 15 and damaged number 19. Five people, residents of these neighboring buildings, were injured, but “none were injured.” ‘is between life and death’ and 33 in total were taken care of, according to MM. Darmanin and Payan.

Eight people who had taken refuge on the roof terrace of number 15 were saved during the night by firefighters mounted on a large ladder.

About the origin of the tragedy, the minister considered that we could “not know today what caused this very large explosion”. “The Marseille Judicial Police is seized and will make the entire truth about these facts,” he added.

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.

“Several testimonies have been coming back to us since this morning to say that there were suspicious smells of gas”, for his part said the assistant in charge of security at the town hall of Marseille Yannick Ohanessian.

Marseille prosecutor Dominique Laurens announced the opening of an investigation for “unintentional injuries” and will hold a press briefing at 6 p.m. in court.

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, however, seemed to be ruled out.

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

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 Boulevard du Prado and on July 20, 1996, a gas explosion blew through a seven-storey building near Saint-Charles station, killing 4 and 26 injured.