Two children are feared to be among the dead after an explosion in a building killed at least seven people in the south of France.
The country’s interior minister reported the death toll as he said he was making his way to the scene in the Pyrénées.
Pictures showed the front of a fast food restaurant completely blown apart by the blast.
Residents reported hearing a huge bang at around 1:30 am which then set buildings on fire on both sides of a street in the small seaside town of Saint-Laurent-de-la-Salanque, around nine miles from the city of Perpignan.
Reports said some survivors jumped out of an upstairs window to escape the flames.
Firefighters worked overnight to contain the fire and were continuing to search for potential victims on Monday morning.
It not known what caused the explosion and officials were surveying the charred remains of the building this morning.
Nadine Bret, 59, who lives nearby, said: ‘I heard a very loud explosion, then I saw huge flames.
‘The buildings were ravaged by the flames. It was total panic.’
She said building work had been going on in the fast-food restaurant on the ground floor of one of the buildings on Sunday.
Two small blocks of flats were left unstable by the damage and had to be evacuated.
As many as 29 people were rescued with some requiring hospital treatment for smoke inhalation, local reports said.
One man in his 30s was taken to hospital in a critical condition after leaping from a second-storey window.
The minister, Gérald Darmanina, said on Twitter: ‘An explosion followed by a fire killed at least 7 people in the Pyrénées-Orientales.
‘I interrupt my trip to Montpellier to go there. I give my full support to the State services mobilized and to the inhabitants. Thoughts to the victims and their loved ones.’
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