AFP-JijiMARSEILLE, France (AFP-Jiji) — French rescue workers were searching into the night Monday for possible victims under the wreckage of two dilapidated buildings that suddenly collapsed in the center of Marseille.
Officials in the southern port city warned there were likely casualties after the two adjoining buildings collapsed around 9:00 a.m., blocking the street with massive piles of rubble in a scene resembling the aftermath of an earthquake.
“What’s important is that there are as few deaths as possible, but we think there will be some,” said Marseille Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin.
Housing Minister Julien Denormandie, who rushed to Marseille from Paris, said it was a “race against the clock” to find survivors.
About 100 rescue workers with sniffer dogs were combing the rubble “relentlessly,” Denormandie said, while a drone scanned the wreckage from above.
Just two passersby were reported lightly injured in the morning.
The delicacy of the operation, a stone’s throw from Marseille’s bustling Old Port and waterfront, became clear in the afternoon when part of a third adjoining building collapsed.
Authorities had evacuated several dozen residents from neighboring buildings as a precaution, police spokesman Philippe Bianchi said.
Google Maps images taken in recent months showed the two collapsed buildings, in the working-class neighborhood of Noailles, had had large visible cracks in their facades.
One of them had been condemned and, with its windows boarded up, was well-secured and in theory unoccupied, officials said.
But neighbors feared there were people inside the other when it crashed down in what Djaffar Nour, who was grocery shopping down the street, said was “a matter of seconds.”
“There was a Comorian lady — every morning she took her two children to school and she got back just before the explosion,” said Nacer Sellani, manager of a shop across the street.