French rescue workers were searching for possible victims under the wreckage of two dilapidated buildings that suddenly collapsed Monday in the centre of the southern city of Marseille.
Huge piles of rubble blocked the narrow shopping street of Rue d’Aubagne, which resembled the scene of an earthquake after the neighbouring buildings collapsed at around 9am (0800 GMT).
Both buildings, in the working-class neighbourhood of Noailles, had had large visible cracks in their facades, and deputy mayor Julien Ruas said one of them, number 63, had been condemned and in theory was unoccupied.
“We will have to see if there is anyone under the rubble of number 65,” he said.
Some 60 rescue workers and two specialised sniffer-dog teams were searching under the rubble and piles of broken window shutters.
Two passers-by were lightly injured when the four and five-storey buildings came down in what Djaffar Nour, who was grocery shopping down the street, said was “a matter of seconds”.
Neighbour Sofia Benameur said she heard “a noise that sounded like ‘badaboum, badaboum'”.
“Suddenly there was loads of dust in my home and I had to run outside,” she said.
Authorities have evacuated several dozen residents from neighbouring buildings as a precaution, police spokesman Philippe Bianchi told AFP.
“Structurally the buildings in Marseille lean against each other, so we don’t want to take the risk,” Ruas said.
While the cause of the collapse was unknown, north Marseille’s Socialist Senator Samia Ghali was already pointing blame at local authorities for poor upkeep of the city’s housing.
“Behind the idyllic postcard there are one two many failures of housing and city-centre policies,” she wrote on Twitter.
The buildings collapsed just a stone throw from Marseille’s bustling Old Port and waterfront.