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Wed. Jun 12th, 2024

Nine corpses were found Wednesday following a fire at a centre in eastern France where a group of adults with learning disabilities were taking their holidays.

The toll could climb further as authorities initially recorded 11 people missing in the town of Wintzenheim, with President Emmanuel Macron describing the disaster as a “tragedy”.

The secretary general of the Haut Rhin prefecture in eastern France, Christophe Marot, said there was “little doubt” the missing had been in the burning building and had not been able to escape.

“We have located nine bodies and we are still looking for two,” Philippe Hauwiller, who is leading the fire brigade search operation, told AFP.

Deputy mayor Daniel Leroy said earlier three bodies had been found using a drone but others were later found with direct searches and with dogs.

The local fire service told AFP authorities were alerted about the blaze in Wintzenheim at around 6:30 am (0430 GMT).

“The fire was quickly brought under control despite the intensity of the flames,” the prefecture the Haut-Rhin region said in a statement.

It said seventeen people were safely evacuated, with one person hospitalized and another treated for shock.

Those staying at the centre were part of a group of adults who had come from the nearby city of Nancy for the holidays.

“In Wintzenheim, the flames ravaged a lodging which accommodated people with disabilities and their companions. In the face of this tragedy, my thoughts go out to the victims, to the injured and to their loved ones,” Macron wrote on Twitter, which is being rebranded as X.

  • ‘Little doubt’ –

Marot confirmed a total of 28 people had been inside at the time, with 11 initially reported as unaccounted for.

“Unfortunately, there is little doubt: all these people were present in the lodging and could not get out,” he told reporters.

People on the ground floor were able to quickly leave the premises but not those upstairs, he said.

According to the fire department, the lodging was rented by an association in that helps people with learning difficulties.

The traditional semi-timbered building, built in the style of the Alsace region, was severely damaged by the fire, according to the firefighters.

At mid-morning, the firefighters were dousing the scene of the disaster with the help of fire hoses, an AFP photographer said.

The roof was destroyed by the flames and, on the first floor, the charred wooden framework was visible.

Other firefighters were clearing wreckage away from the scene of the disaster with smoke still rising up.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on X she would head to the scene after the “terrible” fire.

“My first thoughts are with the victims and their loved ones. I hail the mobilization of the firefighters,” she added.

Marot said those missing were 10 people with light learning difficulties and one supervisor.

He said there was no indication over the cause of the blaze and added an investigation would be opened by regional prosecutors.

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©️ Agence France-Presse

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