MARSEILLE • As many as eight people might have died in the southern French city of Marseille in the collapse of two buildings, officials said yesterday, after the first body was pulled out from the wreckage.
Rescuers worked throughout the night to look for victims in the rubble of two dilapidated apartment blocks which collapsed suddenly on Monday morning not far from the centre of the Mediterranean port city.
There are between five and eight people missing, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said late on Monday, with the authorities trying to trace five residents and three other people who had been invited to the buildings.
"The most important is saving lives," Mr Castaner said at the scene, adding: "During the first clearing operations, we've found some pockets of air that means we still have some hope of finding and identifying a survivor."
The first victim found - a man - was pulled from the wreckage yesterday, prosecutor Xavier Tarabeux said, adding that he needed to be identified.
Google Maps images taken in recent months show the two collapsed buildings, in the working-class neighbourhood of Noailles, had large visible cracks in their facades.
One of the buildings had been condemned and, with its windows boarded up, was well-secured and in theory unoccupied, officials said.
The most important is saving lives. During the first clearing operations, we've found some pockets of air that means we still have some hope of finding and identifying a survivor.
MR CHRISTOPHE CASTANER, French Interior Minister, holding out hope of finding survivors.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Marseille had "the solidarity of the nation" as rescuers worked into the darkness on Monday night.
The incident - rare in a major Western city - has already sparked a political row over the quality of housing available to Marseille's poorest residents.
The neighbourhood is home to many buildings in similarly poor conditions, some of them run by slum landlords.
"It's the homes of the poor that are falling down, and that's not a coincidence," said local lawmaker Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the left-wing France Unbowed party.
The Marseille authorities launched a vast upgrade plan for the city centre in 2011.
But a 2015 government report said some 100,000 Marseille residents were living in housing that was dangerous for their health or security.
NOT A COINCIDENCE
It's the homes of the poor that are falling down, and that's not a coincidence.
MR JEAN-LUC MELENCHON, leader of the left-wing France Unbowed party.