Two firefighters, Spanish tourist killed in Paris gas leak blast

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Firefighters extinguish a fire after the explosion of a bakery on the corner of the streets Saint-Cecile and Rue de Trevise in central Paris on Saturday, January 12, 2019. (AFP)
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A fire engine is damaged in the middle of debris after the explosion of a central Paris bakery. (AFP)
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Firefighters evacuate a resident from an apartment after the explosion of a bakery in central Paris. (AFP)
Updated 13 January 2019
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Two firefighters, Spanish tourist killed in Paris gas leak blast

  • Around 200 firefighters were mobilised to battle the fire that broke out after the blast and evacuate victims and residents in the area
  • Cars were overturned by the blast and glass and rubble was strewn across large swathes of the street after the explosion gutted the lower part of the building

PARIS: A powerful gas explosion tore through a building in central Paris on Saturday, killing two firefighters and a Spanish woman, injuring dozens of people and badly damaging nearby apartments, officials said.
Around 200 firefighters were mobilised to battle the fire that broke out after the blast and evacuate victims and residents in the area, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told reporters at the scene.
The explosion came with the city on edge during the latest "yellow vest" anti-government demonstrations, which have often degenerated into violence and vandalism in Paris and other cities in recent weeks.
Cars were overturned by the blast and glass and rubble was strewn across large swathes of the street after the explosion gutted the lower part of the building. Dozens of residents were treated by rescue workers on the street.
"I was sleeping and was woken up by the blast wave," Claire Sallavuard, who lives on the Rue de Trevise where the explosion occurred, told AFP. "All the windows in the apartment exploded, doors were blown off their hinges, I had to walk on the door to leave the room, all the kids were panicking, they couldn't get out of their room."
"Firefighters advised us to leave but the elevator shaft had been blown out, there was no railing, nothing, and there was too much smoke," she said.
Besides the two dead firefighters, 47 other people were injured in the blast, 10 of them seriously, the Paris prosecutor's office said.
A source in the Spanish foreign ministry said a woman who was holidaying with her husband in Paris died in hospital after the blast while another Spanish national was also injured.
Around 100 police officers blocked off several streets in the area, home to restaurants and tourist attractions including the Musee Grevin wax museum and the popular Rue des Martyrs.
Police also closed off streets in front of the Garnier Opera house as emergency services landed two helicopters in front of the historic building to evacuate victims.
The explosion occurred shortly after 9:00 am (0800 GMT) in a building that housed a bakery as well as a restaurant on the ground floor in the Ninth Arrondissement.
"It happened when there were people in the street, and firefighters inside," the interior minister said.
The shockwave was felt as far as four blocks away, Commander Eric Moulin of the Paris fire service said, adding that rescuers were still searching for other victims.
Firefighters had been responding to an alert of a gas leak at the site when the explosion occurred, Paris prosector Remy Heitz said at the scene.
"First there was a gas leak and the firefighters arrived, then there was an explosion that caused the fire," Heitz said.
Dozens of tourists, suitcases in hand, were evacuated from the many nearby hotels in the area, a popular weekend shopping destination for locals and visitors alike.
Other residents were in bathrobes or quickly dressing in the street as police helicopters circled overhead.
"We were sleeping when we heard the noise, it sounded like an earthquake," a teenager who lives on a nearby street told AFP.
"We came downstairs and we saw a building on fire," her brother said.
Many homes and buildings in Paris use gas for heating and cooking, though explosions due to leaks are relatively rare.


UN counterterrorism chief makes controversial trip to Xinjiang

Updated 19 min 37 sec ago
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UN counterterrorism chief makes controversial trip to Xinjiang

  • Vladimir Ivanovich Voronkov traveled to Beijing and Xinjiang from Thursday to Saturday last week
  • The officials exchanged views on international counterterrorism efforts and reached “broad consensus”

BEIJING: The UN counterterrorism chief visited Xinjiang last week despite protests from the US and a rights group that the trip would be inappropriate in light of the human rights conditions in China’s far west region.
Vladimir Ivanovich Voronkov traveled to Beijing and Xinjiang from Thursday to Saturday last week, said a statement Sunday from the Chinese foreign ministry. Voronkov and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng exchanged views on international counterterrorism efforts and reached “broad consensus,” the statement said.
The US, researchers and rights groups estimate that as many as 1 million ethnic Muslims may be arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang, home to the Uighur and Kazakh minority groups.
Former detainees have told The Associated Press that they were held without charge in “reeducation centers” where they were forced to denounce their faith and pledge loyalty to the ruling Communist Party. The Chinese government denies there is widespread abuse in these centers, which it says are vocational training schools aimed at combatting extremism and helping Xinjiang residents gain employable skills.
In a conversation with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday, US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan conveyed “deep concerns” about Voronkov’s visit.
“Beijing continues to paint its repressive campaign against Uighurs and other Muslims as legitimate counterterrorism efforts when it is not,” Sullivan said, adding that Voronkov was putting the UN’s reputation and credibility at risk “by lending credence to these false claims.”
Human Rights Watch said Friday the UN should have sent a human rights expert instead of a counterterrorism official.
China’s foreign ministry did not provide details of Voronkov’s trip to Xinjiang.
“Counterterrorism cannot be linked to specific countries, ethnic groups and religions,” the ministry said in its Sunday statement. “It cannot adopt ‘double standards.’ China supports the UN in playing a central coordination role in international counterterrorism affairs.”