Four people have died after an explosion in central Madrid devastated a church-owned building in the Spanish capital, officials have said
The blast, which left smoke pouring into the streets of the city’s La Latina neighbourhood on Wednesday afternoon, gutted the property on Calle de Toledo.
In a tweet the Madrid emergency services confirmed at least 11 people had been injured, one seriously.
The Catholic parish that owns the damaged building said one of the victims was an electrician, a father of four, who was working on a gas boiler in the building.
He was later identified as David Santos Munoz, 35, Madrid’s Archdiocese said in a tweet, saying he had gone to the building earlier in the day to lend a hand.
Spanish authorities said an 85-year-old woman also died in the explosion, and Bulgaria’s foreign ministry said the third victim was a 47-year-old Bulgarian citizen.
Mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida said a fire inside the partially collapsed building had complicated rescue efforts, with firefighters working to put out the blaze before the city’s police could bring in search dogs and special rescue teams to look for any possible survivors.
The building is owned by the Church of the Virgen de la Paloma, with one neighbour saying it is used to provide residential training for priests while also serving as a base to provide meals for the homeless.
Madrid’s Archbishop Carlos Osoro confirmed none of the church’s clerics were among the victims.
Mr Martinez-Almeida identified a gas leak as the likely cause of the explosion.
Reporters at the scene saw emergency workers carry two bodies away from the area less than 200 metres from local landmark the Puerta de Toledo, one that firefighters covered with a blue blanket and another shrouded in reflective emergency sheeting.
There were no injuries recorded among the 55 residents of a nursing home near the site of the blast, which was evacuated into a nearby hotel.
Meanwhile a nearby school, which experienced mild damage in the explosion, was mostly empty at the time – having remained closed following a recent spell of record snowfall across the region.
The mayor added the few who were inside the school suffered no more than “scratches”.
Nearby resident Leire Reparaz, 24, who heard the blast said: “We didn’t know where the sound came from. We all thought it was from the school.
“We went up the stairs to the top of our building and we could see the structure of the building and lots of grey smoke.”
Emy Lee Grau, an area resident who was watching television in a building across the street, added that the moment of the blast was “terrifying”.
“Everything shook, it felt like the roof was falling on us. We were terrified when we saw the amount of smoke coming out of the church’s building.”
Additional reporting by agencies