Three bodies found in rubble of collapsed buildings in Marseille

Two buildings collapsed suddenly not far from Marseille city centre

Firefighters in the southern French city of Marseille found the bodies of three people in the ruins of two collapsed buildings as the search for victims and survivors continued on Tuesday (Wednesday NZ Time).

The corpses of two men and another woman were recovered by rescue workers earlier on Tuesday from the 15-metre (50-foot) pile of rubble on Rue d'Aubagne, a narrow shopping street.

Rescuers formed a human chain to remove the debris, stone by stone. Authorities said the vacant building had been deemed substandard.

The death toll is likely to increase as between five and eight people are missing, French interior minister Christophe Castaner said.

"We still have hope, even if that hope is fading".

"There's not much chance that we'll find pockets where anyone might have survived", Castaner said on Monday evening.

One of them had been condemned and, with its windows boarded up, was well-secured and in theory unoccupied, officials said.

Google Maps images taken in recent months showed large cracks in the facades of the buildings, only one of which was occupied.

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"It's been 10 years that I have been living here and I have never had anyone come and inspect my apartment", said a woman who identified herself as Sophie.

"The most important is saving lives", Castaner added from the scene.

"She was a great girl, she used to come and study at the bar", he said, without giving his name.

"I haven't had any news", he said, wandering among the rescuers.

Authorities said they were looking into what caused the collapse of the buildings, described by residents of the area as dilapidated and in need of fix.

Fire officials deliberately brought down most of a third building due to apprehensions the unsteady structure might cave on top of search crews and sniffer dogs combing the rubble of the other buildings.

But the incident - rare in a major Western city - has already sparked a political row over the quality of housing available to Marseille's poorest residents. "It is the houses of poor people that collapse - and that is no coincidence", he was quoted as saying by local media. A 2015 report by the government found that 100,000 residents of Marseille "were living in housing that was risky to their health or security", according to AFP.

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