At least seven people are in critical condition after an explosion ripped through a busy street in central Paris, setting fire to at least one building.
Paris police said nine other people were also injured in the explosion in the Latin quarter, and rescue workers were searching for two missing people in the rubble, prosecutors said.
The facade of a design school popular with foreign students collapsed, blowing out windows and starting a huge fire.
“The explosion was very strong,” said Florence Berthout, mayor of the area where the explosion occurred.
He said four people were in “absolute emergency” condition and described pieces of glass still falling from buildings near where it happened on Rue Saint-Jacques, in the fifth arrondissement.
More than 200 firefighters were involved in the emergency response and were seen hosing buildings, while Parisians posted images on Twitter of a huge plume of smoke visible to many. of the town, including the top of the domed Pantheon monument.
Journalist Olivier Galzi told BFM TV that he saw the facade of a nearby building “completely collapsed”.
Police urged people to avoid the area, which was busy with tourists and foreign students, and many buildings were evacuated.
The neighborhood, near the Jardin du Luxembourg and Sorbonne University, was cordoned off and dozens of emergency workers swarmed the area.
“This is chaos,” said Christopher Gaglione, who said he witnessed the scene.
“I heard a big bang,” said local bar employee Khal Ilsey. “And when I left the restaurant, I saw flames at the end of Rue Saint-Jacques.”
Art historian Monique Mosser said: “I thought it was a bomb.” Many of the windows in his building were shattered by the blast’s shockwave, he said.
“A neighbor knocked on the door and told me that the fire department was asking us to evacuate as soon as possible. I took out my laptop, my phone. I didn’t even think to take my medicine.”
Prosecutors in Paris said an investigation had been opened into “aggravated involuntary harm”, and investigators were looking into whether safety rules had been breached.
Local officials attributed the explosion and fire to a gas leak, but police spokeswoman Loubna Atta said it was too early to determine the source of the fire and could not confirm that it was caused by an explosion. gas.
The building where the explosion occurred is a private school, the Paris American Academy, which was established in 1965 and teaches fashion design, interior design, fine arts and creative writing.
The smell of smoke lingered in the air as the plume of smoke began to clear as firefighters battled the blaze.
Around 6:40 pm local time, Paris police chief Laurent Nunez said the fire was under control.
An explosion in January 2019 in the ninth district killed four people and injured dozens.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.