At least seven people were killed, including two children, after an explosion set fire to a building in southern France.
An infant was among those killed in the fire that erupted in a three-story building in the seaside town of Saint-Laurent-de-la-Salanque, north-east of Perpignan.
Gérald Darmanin, the French interior minister, was scheduled to arrive at the scene on Monday afternoon after visiting police in Montpellier, 96 miles (155 kilometres) away.
He verified the preliminary death toll of seven individuals, two of whom were children, but said, “Unfortunately, the job of the firemen and other agencies is not ended, so this may not be definite”.
The French prime minister, Jean Castex, expressed his sympathies to the victim’s relatives and friends and applauded the efforts of the emergency services, which he described as operating “under terrible conditions”.
The explosion occurred at 1.30 a.m. local time and was thought to have occurred on the bottom level, which housed a grocery shop and a fast-food take-away. The building and two adjacent homes were rapidly engulfed in flames.
Firefighters investigated two of the structures but determined that the third was too risky to enter.
According to Jean-David Cavaillé, the public prosecutor in Perpignan, emergency personnel are still looking for a family that was assumed to be in the building but may have been away. The search was hampered because temperatures remained high in the buildings and several levels had fallen, he added, adding that the death toll might increase higher.
According to Cavaillé, an inquiry into the cause of the explosion has been launched, although it is too early to determine if it was accidental or criminal.
One of the men who leapt from the second storey to escape the flames was claimed to be in serious condition in the hospital. Three more persons were harmed as well.
In the early hours of Monday, just under 100 firemen were dispatched to the area.