PARIS – France's interior minister says that four people have been killed, including two firefighters, and 47 have been injured in the blast at a bakery that was apparently caused by a gas leak in central Paris.
Christophe Castaner told reporters at the scene "unfortunately the human toll is particularly serious."
The powerful explosion and fire apparently caused by a gas leak at the bakery Saturday blasted out windows and overturned cars, police said.
Firefighters pulled injured victims out of windows and evacuated residents as smoke billowed out over Rue de Trevise in the 9th arrondissement of north-central Paris.
Witnesses described the overwhelmingly 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.
A Paris police spokeswoman several injuries have been reported to police but no deaths. The spokeswoman, who wasn't authorized to be publicly named, said the explosion is believed to have been prompted by a gas leak. She provided no further details.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said "the situation is under control" but warned the explosion had caused a "heavy toll." After visiting the scene, he described his "shock" at seeing the damage, and said around 200 firefighters and police were involved in the operation.
An investigation was opened, according to the Paris prosecutor's office, which wouldn't comment on what possible causes were being investigated.
A helicopter landed in the area to evacuate the wounded. Silver-helmeted firefighters and red firetrucks filled the street and inspected adjoining courtyards. A vehicle from gas company GRDF was stationed nearby.
The police spokeswoman said firefighters were called to the scene to investigate a gas leak at the bakery, but the blast didn't happen until after they arrived and warned residents to stay inside.
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 @ 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.
"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 theater 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 expected later Saturday around the country.