Two killed in France's Reims city as apartment block collapses after blast
Gas explosion suspected after tragedy occurs near scene of similar incident early this month
Two people died and 14 were injured yesterday when part of an apartment block in the French city of Reims collapsed after an explosion, just three weeks after a similar tragedy not far away.
Authorities in the Champagne region said the "probable" cause of the accident, which saw the extremity of a four-storey building containing some 10 flats crash down, was a gas blast.
Pierre Dartout, the top state representative in the Marne department where Reims is located, said two adults were killed and another 14 people were injured, one seriously. Children were among the hurt, he added.
Early this month, four people from the same family were killed and another person was seriously injured when a gas explosion devastated their council flat in Witry-les-Reims, not far from the scene of the most recent blast.
The earlier incident had shocked the neighbourhood, particularly as the father was still alive when firefighters arrived, talking to them for more than two hours to try to help them locate his wife and child, before dying in the ambulance.
A resident of the council estate in yesterday's blast whose section of the building had not been affected said he heard a huge explosion that shook the walls and broke windows. "When I looked through the window, I saw that the building had collapsed like a stack of cards, with lots of smoke. I heard people screaming," said the resident, identified as Rafik.
The building, built around 50 years ago and one of the oldest in the area, had been renovated several years ago. "They only repainted the facade, the interior has not changed since the 1960s. This was bound to happen, it's too old here," said a bystander named Abdelkader.
"Judging by the state of the buildings, this doesn't surprise me. Here, when you put a nail in the wall, it crumbles," said another resident called Raissa.
French President Francois Hollande sent his "condolences to the families of the victims" and expressed his "solidarity to the city of Reims".
Reims Mayor Adeline Hazan told BFM television that the blast had the earmarks of a possible gas explosion but insisted that only a thorough investigation would determine the exact cause.