A powerful blast believed to be a gas explosion has wrecked an office building in the centre of Prague, injuring at least 35 people and sending shockwaves through the Old Town tourist district.
The blast shattered windows in the scenic area sending glass flying. Police closed a wide area around the site and some tourists were stranded on street corners with baggage-loaded trolleys, unable to get into their hotels. The physical impact could be felt on the packed 15th-century Charles Bridge over the Vltava River.
Two or three people were still believed to be missing, but sniffer dogs searching the rubble had not indicated that anyone was buried and the prime minister said it appeared no one had died.
The explosion occurred on Divadelni Street at about 10 am, in one of a row of several-storey tall brick buildings dating back about a century. The street was covered with rubble and police evacuated people from nearby buildings.
"It's really immense and huge, almost like after an air assault or a bomb explosion," prime minister Petr Necas said after visiting the scene. "So, if we really prove what we think right now, which is that nobody died, it was very lucky."
Prague mayor Bohuslav Svoboda ruled out a terrorist attack, saying the blast was a gas explosion.
Prague is a major tourist capital, visited every year by legions of students, backpackers and others from around the world. In 2012, a total of 5.4 million people visited, with a large majority from outside the country .
Officials had estimated that up to 40 were injured, but Zdenek Schwarz, head of rescue service in Prague later narrowed that down to 35. He told reporters that 30 of the injured were taken to hospitals for treatment, two of them with serious injuries. Five people were treated at the scene, some bandaged and with faces still bloody.
Windows in buildings located hundreds of meters from the blast were shattered, including some in the nearby National Theatre an ornate 19th-century structure that is one of the most important cultural institutions in the Czech Republic. "There was glass everywhere and people shouting and crying," Vaclav Rokyta, a Czech student, said.
The Prague blast comes the day after a possible gas explosion ripped off the side of a five-storey residential building in France's Champagne country, killing at least two people and injuring 14 others.