Six people were injured, including two seriously after an explosion rocked an apartment building in downtown Lisbon, starting a fire. Residents have blamed authorities for negligence, saying that they complained about the smell of gas from floors used as tourist accommodation.
The blast took place at a five-story building in Lisbon’s Alfama district at about 7:30pm local time on Sunday. Videos and photos of flames and a thick grey smoke billowing from the top of the building were posted on social media.
Neighbors said foreign tourists have been renting two upper stories, local media reported. German and French citizens were among the injured, AFP reported.
According to Publico, at least two of the victims are foreigners who rented an apartment in the building while on vacation in Portugal. Seven people were reported to be left homeless by the blast that inflicted an irreparable damage to their apartments.
Cátia Alves, adviser at the National Institute of Emergency Medicine (INEM), said that two people who were seriously injured in the blast were suffering from burns inflicted by an ensuing fire. One person was airlifted to the hospital for treatment. Carlos Manuel Castro, councilor for Civil Protection at Lisbon city council, earlier confirmed that a total of six people were injured.
Thirteen people are believed to have been present in the building at the moment of the explosion, AFP reported. Seven people have been evacuated to safety as the fire, since put out by the firefighters, broke out.
It is so far unclear what led to the explosion, with preliminary reports pointing to a possible gas leak as the cause of the blast.
Meanwhile, some of the residents put the blame on authorities for turning a blind eye to the building’s long-time problems.
Residents of the building told local media they had smelled a distinctive gas odor since morning and technicians were dispatched to the site by the Energias de Portugal (EDP), Portugal-based utility company, to perform appropriate checks. Two technicians reportedly were working on the top floor of the building when it was struck by the explosion.
One the residents of the building, Álvaro Filho, told Portuguese tabloid Diário de Notícias, that a strong smell of gas was “a recurring problem, at least since January,” and was repeatedly brought to the attention of a maintenance company, EDP, and the fire service, which both visited the building several times in the past several months.
Filho noted that on Sunday morning the smell felt so intense that he decided to contact the fire department, but was told that there was nothing to worry about by the officials, alleging that the suspicious smell was due to a short circuit that occurred earlier in the same area.
“We were told that everything was fine, that the smell was not gas but a burned electric cable,” Filho said. When he returned home late evening and saw gas technicians working at the site, he was reassured again that there was no point in concern, with workers telling his wife that “everything was fine.”
Filho, originally from Brazil, has been renting an apartment on the first floor for 11 months, blamed the authorities for failure to take up necessary precautions to avoid the unfortunate turn of events that left him with nowhere to go in the middle of the night as the access to the house has been barred.
Lamenting the lack of help offered by the authorities in the aftermath of the blast, he said that nobody had offered him temporary accommodation.
“It’s all Kafkaesque,” he said.