Two firefighters were killed and 47 other people were injured in an explosion at a bakery that was apparently caused by a gas leak in central Paris on Saturday, France's interior ministry said.
Christophe Castaner had initially put the death toll at four, but Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz later revised the number.
Castaner told reporters at the scene "unfortunately the human toll is particularly serious." He said 10 people are in critical condition and 37 others less seriously injured.
He paid homage to the courage of rescuers who saved the life of one firefighter who was buried under the rubble for two and a half hours.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who was also at the scene, extended a "message of affection and solidarity" to the victims.
The powerful explosion blasted out windows and overturned cars.
Firefighters pulled injured victims out of windows and evacuated residents as smoke billowed over Rue de Trevise in the 9th arrondissement of north-central Paris.
Heitz said that the cause appears to be an accidental gas leak. He said that Paris firefighters were already at the scene to investigate a suspected gas leak at the bakery when the explosion happened.
An investigation was opened to determine the exact cause of the blast, he said.
Witnesses described the overwhelming sound of the blast and people trapped inside nearby buildings. Charred debris and broken glass covered the pavement around the apartment building housing the bakery, which resembled a blackened carcass.
The interior minister said around 200 firefighters and police were involved in getting the fire under control and the recovery operation.
The force of the blast on the corner of the streets Saint-Cecile and Rue de Trevise shattered windows and overturned cars. (Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images)
A helicopter landed in the area to evacuate the wounded. Silver-helmeted firefighters and red fire trucks filled the street and inspected adjoining courtyards. A vehicle from gas company GRDF was stationed nearby.
Pedro Goncalves, an employee at the Hotel Mercure opposite the bakery, said he saw firefighters enter the bakery in the morning but he and his co-workers "thought maybe it's a joke, a false alarm" and they went back to work. About an hour later, he said a blast rocked the surrounding streets.
"In the middle of nothing, I heard one big explosion and then a lot of pressure came at me (and) a lot of black smoke and glass," he said. "And I had just enough time to get down and cover myself and protect my head."
Goncalves said he "felt a lot of things fall on me" and that he was struck by shattered glass. He had a few cuts on his head, and spots of blood on his sweater and undershirt.
Hotel patrons injured
"Thank God I'm OK," he said, saying that the blast was so powerful that he heard whistling in his ears in the aftermath. Goncalves said that he ran for the exit and then went to check on the hotel's clients, adding that some of them had head injuries and were bleeding. He said that the hotel was "destroyed" in the blast.
Another witness told The Associated Press that she was awakened by the blast, and feared it was another terrorist attack.
The bakery is around the corner from the Folies-Bergere theatre and not far from the shopping district that includes the famed headquarters of Galeries Lafayette.
The explosion came as the French capital is on edge and under heavy security for yellow vest protests around the country.
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