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"I saw my apartment melt before my eyes"

Tuesday, 10 hours. Erlanger Street wakes up after a night of chaos. The arson that broke out around midnight on the night of Monday to Tuesday at number 17 is the deadliest in Paris for almost fourteen years. More than five hours were needed for the firefighters to extinguish the fire. In the morning, after controlling the fire, they inspected the building and searched the rubble for possible victims.

Read alsoErlanger Street fire: a resident in suspicion

Located in the XVIe Capital district, not far from the metro station Michel-Ange-Molitor, the street Erlanger is mainly made up of apartment buildings. According to the mayor of Paris, the stone building, eight storeys high, has 80 homes, mainly studios, small studios and two-rooms. Between 80 and 120 people lived in this building dating back to the 70s that was declared Tuesday morning uninhabitable. The intervention of the firefighters was slowed down by the configuration of the places. As soon as they arrive, the helpers understand that their intervention is going to be dangerous: the building, which is already heavily engulfed, is at the back of another building. It is not accessible from the street. "You first had to cross the corridor of the building overlooking Erlanger Street, before arriving in a small courtyard. We could not use the large scales of the trucks, says Captain Clément Cognon, spokesman for the Paris fire brigade (BSPP).

survivors

The soldiers of the fire decide then to leave the ladders, "by hand" and "Hook", which allow to rest on the windowsills to climb to the floors. Before attacking the fire with their water lances, they begin by rescuing the people who are cornered, who call for help from windows or roofs. "You had to go very fast by taking significant risks, continues Clement Cognon. We climbed the building with the impression of going up the assault, there was a lot of rescues to be done at the same time. " Several floors are on fire. "I still have in the eyes the image of the colleagues who intervene in the middle of the flames", says the captain of the BSPP. Videos shot by the brigade show huge flames escaping from windows with windows blown up by the heat. In the stairwell and elevators, the fire is gaining volume as in a chimney. About fifty people are evacuated. Two adjacent buildings were also emptied of their occupants as a precaution. In total, some 200 firefighters participated in the rescue operations.

Paris, February 5, 2019. Near the building burned rue Erlanger in the 16th arrondissement of Paris.About four hours after controlling the fire, firefighters were still at work. Photo Cyril Zannettacci. UL for Liberation

On Tuesday around 11 am, two young people leave a building requisitioned by the relief. Laurent and Nelly, two students, are survivors. They lost everything. "I saw my apartment melt before my eyes", says the young man, exhausted and in shock. Like his neighbor, he lived on the top floor, in a studette. "As soon as I felt the smell of the burnt, I went to knock on the door of Nelly and we went to take refuge on the roof. The flames surrounded us. " They will stay an hour. Until the firemen arrive. "In front of us, an old gentleman had taken refuge on his balcony. We descended from the roof by a ladder and then rapped with a rope, tells the young woman who floats in a jacket too large lent by a family of a neighboring building. People were screaming and calling for help from their windows. There were more people in distress and urgency than us. " Once out of business, they will be hosted by neighbors for the rest of the night. Without a relocation solution for now, Laurent is preparing to return to his home "Parents in the South". Her neighbor has planned to sleep at a friend's house. Other residents also say they enjoy a friendly or family solidarity. Not all: during the day, several people went to the reception cell at the XVI City Halle to request accommodation.

In front of the cordon that delimits the perimeter security set up by the police, Elizabeth, 50, observes the ballet of the fire vans. Inhabitant of the district, she was for years housekeeper at a inhabitant of the first floor: "It's a very quiet neighborhood usually. All I hope is that my former employer is doing well. " The balance is heavy. In addition to the difficulties of access which slowed down the intervention of the firemen, the nocturnal disaster "Took the victims in their sleep," explains the fire department spokesman.

"Pajamas"

Radhouane, 23, is slowly climbing Erlanger Street. He spent the night helping the victims and supporting the victims. The tired face and the eyes in the wave, the young man who lives in the XVIIIe Paris district tells a night "endless". "I was at a friend's house at the end of the street. I heard screams from outside. I came down. Relief was not yet on site but other residents began to flock out. The guardians of the buildings opened the halls to greet the inhabitants of the building in flames that came out drop by drop. Some "Came out in pajamas". Or with not much on the back. "One of the guards brought clothes and a bathrobe for a woman who was outside, bare-legged."

Read alsoParis: deadly fire in the sixteenth arrondissement

Awakened by people who came to the door, a tenant of the damaged building who prefers to remain anonymous tells how he had the reflex to go to help other residents: "I went directly to the second floor" to knock on doors and tell people to go out. Employed in the field of fire safety, the guy had made a refresher a few weeks ago. "Reality has nothing to do with internships, he said hoarsely. You see the fire. All of a sudden everything becomes gray in front of you. I swallowed smoke. I squatted to breathe as little as possible. On the third floor, people screamed but it was impossible to reach them. "

In the early morning, the mayor of the capital, Anne Hidalgo, arrives on the spot. "Paris is in mourning," she says. From the Elysee Palace, Emmanuel Macron tweets: "France wakes up in emotion after the fire on rue Erlanger in Paris tonight. Thoughts for the victims. Thanks to the firefighters whose courage saved many lives. "

Charles Delouche photos Cyril Zannettacci. VU

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