Explosion hits a building in Paris, injuring 16. Police are trying to determine the cause

Smoke and a stream of water in between buildings
Firemen use a water canon as they fight a blaze Wednesday in Paris.
Christophe Ena | AP Photo

A strong explosion hit a building in Paris’ Left Bank on Wednesday, leaving at least 16 injured and igniting a fire that sent smoke soaring over city monuments and prompted the evacuation of surrounding buildings, police said. The cause of the blast was not immediately known.

The facade of a building in the 5th arrondissement, or district, collapsed and emergency services were working to determine if anyone was still inside, a Paris police official said. The explosion hit near the historic Val de Grace military hospital.

Paris police chief Laurent Nunez told reporters there were 16 people injured, including seven in “emergency condition.” The authorities did not specify whether the injured were in life-threatening condition.

The fire was contained but not extinguished, Nunez said.

Florence Berthout, mayor of the arrondissement, said, “The explosion was extremely violent,” describing pieces of glass still falling from buildings.

The police official described several injuries, some of them critical, but did not provide an exact figure as emergency workers continued their search.

The smell of smoke lingered in the air while the gray plume visibly lessened as firefighters battled the blaze. The neighborhood was cordoned off and scores of emergency workers, police and soldiers filled the area.

Paris police spokeswoman Loubna Atta said it was too early to determine the source of the fire and could not confirm reports it was caused by a gas explosion.

Achille, a student, said he was in a building about 100 meters (yards) from the explosion.

“I was sitting on the windowsill, and we moved 2 meters away from the window, carried by a small blast (from the explosion) and huge fear,” he told BFM television. His last name was not given.

“We came down (from the building) and saw the flames,” he said. “The police gave us great support and we evacuated quickly.”