French firefighters and rescue forces work after several buildings on fire following a gas explosion in the fifth arrondissement of Paris, France, June 21, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

Paris: A blast ripped through a street in the busy Latin Quarter of central Paris on Wednesday, causing the facade of one building to collapse, blowing out windows and starting a huge blaze.

At least 24 people were injured, including seven who are in a critical condition, police said.

The local deputy mayor, Edouard Civel, referred to a gas explosion in a Twitter post and witnesses told BFM TV there had been a strong smell of gas moments before the blast.

"I heard a huge explosion," said local bar employee Khal Ilsey. "And as I was leaving the restaurant, I saw flames at the end of Rue Saint-Jacques." More than 200 firefighters were involved in the emergency response. TV images showed firefighters manning hoses and aiming jets of water at the blaze while a plume of thick black smoke billowed into the sky.

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The blast occurred in the Rue Saint-Jacques in the 5th arrondissement of central Paris. The road leads from the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral to the Sorbonne University and the Val de Grace military hospital and is a few blocks from the popular Jardin du Luxembourg.

The area is usually packed with tourists and foreign students in the early summer.

"I was at home writing...I thought it was a bomb," said art historian Monique Mosser, adding that many of the windows in her building had been blown out by the blast's shockwave.

"A neighbour knocked on the door and told me that the fire brigade were asking us to evacuate as quickly as possible. I grabbed my laptop, my phone. I didn't even think to take get my medication." In 2019, a gas leak caused an explosion which killed 4 people and injured 66 in the 9th arrondissement.