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Paris building explosion toll rises to eight

The death toll from an explosion in an apartment building outside Paris rose to eight on Monday (Sep 1), including three children, as a desperate search for survivors proved almost fruitless.

ROSNY-SOUS-BOIS, France: The death toll from an explosion in an apartment building outside Paris rose to eight on Monday (Sep 1), including three children, as a desperate search for survivors proved almost fruitless.

Eleven people were also injured in the disaster, four of them seriously, that sliced through a four-storey residential block in the Paris suburb of Rosny-sous-Bois in two on Sunday.

Among the dead were a 40-year-old mother and her two children aged 14 and 18, a 10-year-old child, a woman in her 80s who lived on the first floor, a 45-year-old woman and two further adults, one of whom was identified only as a man in his fifties. Only two people have been brought out from the rubble alive. Two of the injured were children aged 10 and 13.

Rescue workers combed the site with sniffer dogs and mechanical diggers continued to search for survivors on Monday. They had worked through the night under powerful floodlights in the hope of finding anyone else alive.

Firefighters and local officials said the probable trigger for the explosion was a gas leak. Samuel Bernes, a spokesman for the Paris firefighters department said one of the possibilities being looked into was a faulty gas boiler. "This boiler was located in a ground floor flat," he said, adding that it had been taken by police for laboratory tests. But gas provider GRDF said there had been no leaks reported by building residents in the past.

Neighbours said the blast, which happened at around 0500 GMT(1pm Singapore time) on Sunday, was strong enough to shake buildings some 100 metres away. Wallpaper, toilet seats, family photos and other everyday items were exposed following the blast.

'TREMBLING FROM FEAR'

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who visited the scene, and police also pointed to a gas leak as a likely cause of the blast.

Gabriel Plus, another spokesman for the firefighters, said there were "gas and electricity works on the site," but did not immediately draw a direct link to the building collapse.

Neighbour Maryline Yyvon said: "They'd been digging under the sidewalk just in front of the building," she told AFP. "Given the force of the explosion, it wasn't just a gas canister, that's for sure," she said.

"Our house moved, we were trembling from fear," said Pauline, another neighbour, adding that the explosion was so loud that "our ears were ringing".

Ghislaine Poletto, 55, who lives about 50 metres away from the collapsed building, said she "jumped into her trousers" and rushed to the site, where together with neighbours "we managed to pull two children out". One of the children was "protected by a mattress and a board above his head, which saved his life," she said.

Deputy Mayor Serge Deneulin said the building dates from the 1970s and was "in perfect shape". City officials set up a makeshift shelter in a nearby school with an on-site medical team for families hit by the blast.

The neighbourhood was in shock with locals gathering to provide moral support and food to the families affected. "My granddaughter went to school with two teenaged girls who died," said Monique Devit, 75, holding a flower in her hand. "It's atrocious."

Rosny resident Sylvian Koffi came to the local town hall, where some of the victims were housed, bringing pasta. "It could happen to anyone," he said, referring to the tragedy.