Fiery Marseille building collapse kills eight, France
A building collapse at 15 Rue de Tivoli in Marseille in southern France on Saturday, 8 April 2023, killed eight people and injured five others. The buildings exploded and collapsed, while a third partially collapsed and caught fire, complicating rescue operations. More than 100 fire fighters worked against a ticking clock to extinguish flames deep within the rubble of the five-storey building but more than 17 hours later “the situation was not yet stabilised,” Marseille Prosecutor Dominique Laurens said.
Fire fighters, with the help of urban rescue experts, worked through the night and all day Sunday in a slow race against time. The delicate operation aimed to keep fire fighters safe, prevent further harm to people potentially trapped in the rubble and not compromise vulnerable buildings nearby. Some 30 buildings in the area were evacuated, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.
The fire hampered progress and made it difficult for sniffer dogs to detect survivors or bodies.
Drones and probes have been used to examine the scene for signs of life. The burning debris was too hot for dogs in the fire fighters' canine team to work until Sunday afternoon, though smoke still bothered them, the prosecutor said.
“We cannot intervene in a very classic way,” Interior Minister Darmanin said during a morning visit to the site. He said the fire was burning a few metres under the mounds of debris and that both water and foam represent a danger to victims’ survival.
“Ruins have to be combed by hand" because of the "very great danger to the stability" of a neighbouring building”, Laurens added.
Five people from neighbouring buildings sustained minor injuries in the explosion and around 200 people had to be evacuated from their homes.
Two nearby blocks partially collapsed a few hours later but there were no further reports of injuries from this. Five people suffered minor injuries from the collapse, which occurred at 00h49am.
Marseille Mayor Benoit Payan said two buildings that share walls with the one that collapsed were partially brought down before one later caved in, another complication in the search and rescue operation. The buildings were among the evacuated structures.
"If there are any living people left under the rubble, they must be safeguarded at all costs and this must be done in a surgical manner, if I may put it that way. And so it is stone by stone that we continue this work, that we will continue it all day. There is still hope and as long as there is hope, we will not stop," Mayor Payan said.
“The flames weren't pink. They were blue,” Mayor Payan said.
In a brief statement announcing the discovery of the bodies, the fire department said that "given the difficulties of intervention, the extraction [of the bodies from the site] will take time".
A local gymnasium and two schools have been opened to accommodate the people who have had to leave their homes. Psychological support is also being offered.
An investigation has been opened for involuntary injury, at least initially sidestepping possible criminal intentions. A gas explosion was among the tracks to check, said Laurens, the prosecutor. But the start of the probe also was limited by the heat of the fire.
The building is believed to have had one apartment on each storey. The building that collapsed is located on a narrow street in the centre of Marseille, adding to an array of difficulties for fire fighters and rescue workers.
The collapsed building is located in an old quarter in the centre of France’s second-largest city. The noise from the explosion resounded in other neighbourhoods. Nearby streets were blocked off.
Although the origin of the explosion is yet uncertain, a gas leak may have played a role. The fallen buildings were not known to have any structural issues, according to Mayor Payan.
In 2018, two buildings in the centre of Marseille collapsed, killing eight people. Those buildings were poorly maintained — not the case with the building that collapsed Sunday after an explosion, the interior minister said.
Sources: Euro News, France 24, Associated Press, BBC
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