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3 die, 14 hurt in French explosion

REIMS, France — A possible gas explosion ripped off the side of a five-story residential building in France’s champagne country on Sunday, killing at least three people and injuring 14 others, officials said.

More than 100 rescue workers, firefighters, search dogs, and bomb and gas experts were deployed to the gutted building in a subsidized housing complex in the city of Reims, east of Paris, officials said.

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Michel Bernard, the top government official in Reims, said crews searching for survivors turned up the body of a woman under the rubble Sunday afternoon, raising the death toll to three. He said it was unlikely that the toll would rise any higher.

One person was hospitalized with serious, but not life-threatening injuries, and another 13 people had minor injuries, officials said. Authorities used backhoes to help clear away the rubble.

Bernard said the building dated to the 1960s. About 10 of the 40 or so apartments were affected on the end of the rectangular building, he said.

‘‘We don’t know the cause of the explosion. It was probably due to gas,’’ Adeline Hazan, the mayor, said at the scene.

An official investigation was under way to determine the cause, she said. Authorities say the three people known to have died were adults.

Witnesses described a powerful blast.

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