Thousands of residents of the Central African Republic's capital, Bangui, fled their homes to escape the waves of killings between Muslim and Christian communities.
Many people took shelter in churches or in safer areas at the airport where French troops have a base.
France is deploying 1,600 troops to its former colony, where at least 300 people have died in three days of violence.
The violence is between the Seleka rebel group that seized power in March and Christian self-defence militias, which have spilled over into religious violence in the capital and beyond.
Central African Republic has been gripped by chaos since Seleka toppled former President Francois Bozize.
Seleka has embarked on months of looting, rapes and killings.
Seleka's leader Michel Djotodia, installed as CAR's interim president, has lost control of his loose band of fighters.
The United Nations Security Council authorised France to use deadly force to help African peacekeepers struggling to restore order.
Paris sprang into action after an attack on Bangui the same day by Christian militias and gunmen loyal to Bozize that ignited the worst violence in a year of crisis.
The landlocked nation has seen little but conflict and political instability since independence from France in 1960.
Having intervened in previous conflicts, Paris hoped to avoid this one, but the level of slaughter forced its hand.
The Red Cross said that by Friday evening 281 bodies had been collected from Bangui's streets.
Many more are expected to be brought in over the weekend. Medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières said it had treated 190 wounded in the Hospital Communautaire.
It is extending activities to continue to treat injured patients in hospitals and health centres across Bangui.
It will provide health services to around 14,000 displaced people in two of the main sites where those who have fled from the violence in the Central African Republic'