Dramatic Paris theatre blast probably 'accidental'

13th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 13 (AFP) - An accident was considered the most likely cause of an explosion early Sunday that wrecked a large theatre near the Arc de Triomphe in central Paris, injuring seven people, police said.

PARIS, Feb 13 (AFP) - An accident was considered the most likely cause of an explosion early Sunday that wrecked a large theatre near the Arc de Triomphe in central Paris, injuring seven people, police said.

The force of the blast completely destroyed the first two floors of the Empire theatre, scattering debris into the street and blowing out the windows of adjacent buildings.

The seven casualties, two guards and five passers-by, were mostly hurt by flying glass.

The Paris prosecutor's office opened a preliminary enquiry to determine if the blast was criminal or accidental in origin.

"No hypothesis is being ruled out," the interior ministry said in a statement, while an official at the prosecutor's office said: "There is no reason to come down on the side of a criminal act".

Investigators told AFP that the blast was most probably linked to renovation works currently being carried out in the building, which is being converted into a luxury hotel. Technicians had been heard by investigators late on Sunday, with a build-up of hot water suspected as the cause of the accident.

Around 100 firefighters and 32 fire-engines were sent to the scene, which a policeman described as "a very spectacular sight."

A witness who was staying in the building across from the theatre said there were two loud bangs at 6:35 am (0535 GMT).

"The first explosion was very strong, followed two or three minutes later by a second blast, much less strong," said Francois Girard. "It's scary. You immediately think of a gas explosion or a bomb."

Emergency workers said the second noise was probably of masonry collapsing inside the building.

Sniffer dogs searched the rubble inside the theatre for possible other victims.

Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin, the chief of police and other Paris officials, visited the scene on Sunday.

On Saturday night the 1,200-seat venue had hosted a private sale of clothes which finished around 1:00 am, police said. In recent years, it has also regularly been used as a venue for filming popular television programmes as well as fashion shows.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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