At least seven killed in fire after huge explosion in south-west France

At least seven people including two children have died in a fire caused by a huge explosion in south-west France.

Several buildings were set ablaze on both sides of a street in the seaside town of St Laurent-de-la-Salanque after a blast was heard at 01:30 local time on Monday.

Firefighters are still searching for victims in two small blocks of flats damaged by the fire.

The cause of the original explosion is not yet known.

France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who visited the scene of the accident on Monday afternoon, said the current death toll of seven was only provisional while emergency services continued to search for survivors.

“Prosecutors currently don’t have any crucial information to determine whether this was accidental or criminal,” he added.

The Pyrénées-Orientales region’s fire department attended the scene after receiving a call following an explosion in commercial premises, which it said subsequently set fire to the apartments above.

“The buildings were ravaged by the flames. It was a total panic,” 59-year-old local resident Nadine Bret told AFP.

According to local media reports, around 20 people were injured in the fire.

One man in his 30s has been taken to hospital in critical condition after he jumped out of a second-storey window in order to escape the fire.

The local town hall said that some of those evacuated by firefighters had been provided with accommodation.

“Our hearts go out to the victims and their families,” it said in a statement. “We will mobilise to help them as best we can in these most tragic circumstances.”