Marseille explosion: Bodies found in rubble of collapsed apartment building

Housing minister calls discovery 'gruesome, difficult and dramatic' as fire hinders search and rescue mission

Firefighters at the scene of the collapsed building in Marseille on Monday. Reuters
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Six bodies have been found by rescuers in the rubble of an apartment block that collapsed after an explosion in Marseille, France.

More than 24 hours after an explosion at the building, where residents reported a strong smell of gas, dozens of civil defence staff and sniffer dogs combed through the debris on Monday as a fire continued to smoulder.

Rescuers said the operation is now a hunt for two more people reported missing. Marseille Mayor Benoit Payan added that the search would continue as long as there was hope.

Authorities identified eight people as missing after Sunday's explosion, which destroyed two residential buildings and caused a third to partially collapse.

The cause of the blast is still unknown but residents had reported a strong smell of gas in the area.

The discovery of the bodies was “gruesome, difficult and dramatic”, said housing minister Olivier Klein.

Rescue operations continued on Monday with “care and determination” and 40 buildings near the site were evacuated, he added.

The collapse caused a fire, which was still burning on Monday morning, complicating rescue efforts.

“There is still hope and as long as there is hope, we will not stop,” said Mr Payan.

Lionel Mathieu, commander of Marseille fire department, said his team was waging a “battle against time”.

“The fire has not reached all parts, so there is hope that some people are still alive,” he said.

Five people were taken to hospital on Sunday with serious injuries although none were described as life-threatening.

More than 100 firefighters were battling the blaze in the ruins of the building, with the intense heat preventing sniffer dogs from immediate access to the site.

The rescuers' task was further complicated by the partial collapse of one of the adjoining buildings, where eight people had to be taken down by ladder after seeking refuge on a roof terrace.

About 180 residents were put up in schools after nearby buildings were evacuated.

A centre for people looking for missing family members or loved ones has been opened in a neighbouring district.

The accident comes three years after eight people were killed in Marseille when two dilapidated buildings in the working-class district of Noailles caved in.

The accident highlighted the city's poor housing standards, with charity groups claiming that 40,000 people live in substandard structures.

However, authorities appear to have ruled out structural issues in the latest collapse.

“There was no danger notice for this building and it is not in a neighbourhood identified as having substandard housing,” said Christophe Mirmand, prefect of the Bouches-du-Rhone region.

Updated: April 10, 2023, 6:51 PM