(CBS News) — A powerful explosion and fire apparently caused by a gas leak at a Paris bakery killed three people and injured dozens of others on Saturday, according to authorities. Firefighters pulled injured victims from windows and evacuated residents as smoke billowed over Rue de Trevise in the 9th arrondissement of north-central Paris.
The French Interior Ministry said two firefighters and a female Spanish tourist were killed by the blast and about 10 of the 47 wounded were in critical condition.
In the immediate aftermath, smashed cars and debris littered the street outside the bakery, housed in an apartment building that resembled a blackened carcass. People standing around appeared stunned by the force of the blast, BBC News reported.
Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said firefighters were at the scene before the explosion occurred to investigate a suspected gas leak. That was when the blast happened.
He told The Associated Press that “the judicial police have started investigating, the scientific police as well.”
“The origin of the explosion seems accidental,” he said. “We are at the beginning of the investigation, everything will be made to establish the exact origin of the explosion as soon as possible.”
Witnesses described the overwhelming sound of the blast and people trapped inside nearby buildings.
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.
“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.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who was at the scene, said many residents and tourists were evacuated from neighboring hotels and buildings.
The explosion occurred as some 80,000 police officers were expected to be on duty Saturday, while “yellow vest” protesters are set to take to the streets for the ninth weekend in a row to protest the government, the BBC reported. The Paris blast is not believed to be connected to the protests.