The death toll from an explosion in an apartment building outside Paris rose to seven on Monday, with rescue workers scrambling against time to find one last man still missing.
Local prefect Philippe Galli said a woman in her 80s who lived on the first floor was buried under the rubble after the four-storey residential block in the Paris suburb of Rosny-sous-Bois collapsed on Sunday morning.
“We have to dig her out. She’s stuck in the rubble,” Galli told reporters.
In addition to the octogenarian, the disaster has already claimed the lives of a 40-year-old mother and her two children aged 14 and 18, a 10-year-old child, a 45-year-old woman and another adult who has yet to be identified formally.
Rescue workers are now combing the site with sniffer dogs and mechanical diggers in a bid to find one more person unaccounted-for, a man in his 50s who lived on the ground floor.
“Time is not on our side,” said Gabriel Plus, a spokesman for Paris firefighters.
“But as long as all the missing people have not been found, we’ll keep the operation going,” added Plus.
Galli however doused hopes of a miracle, saying the chances of finding a survivor were “very, very small.” All the potential air pockets have been explored and the rubble is “extremely compact,” he said.
Rescue workers had searched through the night with powerful floodlights in the hope of finding anyone else alive.
The tragedy also injured 11 people, four seriously but Galli said their lives were not in danger. Two of the injured were children aged 10 and 13.
Neighbours said the blast, which happened on Sunday, was strong enough to shake buildings some 100 metre away.
The building was practically scythed in two. Wallpaper, toilet seats, family photos and other everyday items were left open to the elements.
Early indications were that it was an accidental gas explosion. Plus said there were “gas and electricity works on the site,” but did not immediately draw a direct link to the building collapse.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who visited the scene, and police initially pointed to a gas leak as a likely cause of the blast.
GRDF, the company in charge of delivering gas to homes, told AFP that “no leaks had been reported previously” in the area.
Neighbour Maryline Yyvon suggested the explosion was indeed the result of a gas leak. “They’d been digging under the footpath just in front of the building,” she told AFP.
“Given the force of the explosion, it wasn’t just a gas canister, that’s for sure,” she said.
“Our house moved, we were trembling from fear,” said Pauline, a neighbour, adding that the explosion was so loud that “our ears were ringing”.