On Sunday, a building in Marseille collapsed, killing six people, and injuring several others. The death toll rose from three to six as rescue workers recovered three more bodies on Monday. Two people remain unaccounted for, and identifying the deceased is a top priority for investigators.
The explosion occurred at an apartment building where residents had reported a strong gas smell. Civil defense staff have been working tirelessly through the debris with the aid of drones, heat sensors, and sniffer dogs. However, the fire underneath the rubble has made it difficult for the dogs to detect survivors or bodies.
Housing Minister Olivier Klein announced the discovery of four bodies earlier that day, but the number rose to five and then six victims within a few hours. Marseille’s deputy mayor, Yannick Ohanessian, expressed hope of finding survivors, but the dangerous conditions, coupled with the ferocity of the fire, have made it an uphill task.
The rescue operation has faced several challenges, including the blaze’s deep heart, which is hard to reach with hoses. Rescue workers used an excavator to clear most of the rubble, stopping as soon as they noticed an air pocket, which signaled the presence of a possible survivor. The authorities evacuated almost 200 residents from the area, leaving many in fear, as two neighboring buildings were severely damaged, and one collapsed during the day without injuring any rescuers.
The city prosecutors have opened a manslaughter investigation, ruling out any structural issues as a possible cause of the disaster. The 2018 collapse of two dilapidated buildings in Marseille’s Noailles district, which killed eight people, highlighted the city’s housing standards. Aid groups had then raised concerns about 40,000 people living in substandard structures. However, Christophe Mirmand, prefect of the Bouches-du-Rhone region, confirmed that there had been no danger notice for the collapsed building, and it was not located in a neighborhood identified as having substandard housing.
On Tuesday, investigators stated that they are working on the hypothesis of a gas explosion as the cause of the building’s collapse. A gas meter was found in the rubble that may help determine whether there was atypical consumption in the 24 hours prior to the explosion. Four of the six victims have been formally identified, a 74-year-old couple, and two women, ages 88 and 65, who were neighbors. Rescuers are continuing their search for the two people who remained unaccounted for following the emergency in France’s second-largest city.
The tragedy has left many in the neighborhood in fear, as the two neighboring buildings were severely damaged. Arnaud Dupleix, the president of a parents’ association at the nearby Tivoli elementary school, stated that many families were afraid. The authorities must take necessary steps to ensure that buildings are maintained and safe for residents to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future.