On Wednesday afternoon, an immense gas blast rocked a private school located in Paris’ Left Bank, leaving 29 people wounded, seven of whom were in critical condition.
The force of the explosion completely destroyed the building on Place Alphonse-Laveran in the 5th arrondissement, creating a plume of smoke that could be seen from the historic dome of the nearby Val de Grace military hospital. The Paris American Academy, a school that prepares students for a career in the arts, was the center of the blast and up to two people were initially reported missing.
Windows throughout the area were shattered and some local residents stated that the power of the explosion was so powerful that it caused their doors to be slammed shut. “It felt like an earthquake, the windows banged against each other,” one woman, who was located a little under a quarter mile away from the explosion, told CNN. In response to the fire, nearly 300 firefighters were deployed to the scene, although Police Chief Laurent Nunez reported that the blaze was contained yet still burning.
Florence Berthout, the mayor of the 5th arrondissement, declared that the blast was “extremely violent,” and noted that pieces of debris were still being flung from nearby buildings onto the street below. The neighborhood was blocked off, and Paris’ prosecutor opened an investigation into whether or not there were any violations of safety codes that may have been involved in the incident.
Achille, a student who was located about 100 yards from the school during the explosion, spoke to BFM television about his experience. “I was sitting on the windowsill, and we moved 2 meters away from the window, carried by a small blast [from the explosion] and huge fear,” he said. “We came down [from the building] and saw the flames. The police gave us great support and we evacuated quickly.”
Gas explosions in Paris, a consequence of the city’s elderly infrastructure, are not rare occurrences. In 2019, four people were killed and several others were wounded after an explosion in the 9th district.