AN ELDERLY couple had a remarkable escape when a gas explosion ripped through their house and reduced it to rubble while they were in bed.
Robin and Marianne Cunningham’s home in Callander, Stirlingshire, was effectively demolished by the explosion, which blew the front windows into the street and scattered broken glass across a wide area.
But a small section of the bungalow, which housed their bedroom, remained standing. It was to be demolished last night.
Mr Cunningham, 77, was airlifted to Glasgow Royal Infirmary after being rescued from the scene and was last night said to be in a stable condition. His 74-year-old wife was taken to Forth Valley Royal Infirmary with minor injuries and later released.
The couple’s dog was pulled from the rubble unharmed by firefighters and was said to have been reunited with Mrs Cunningham last night after spending the day with neighbours.
Alastair Allan, 47, who lives opposite the Cunninghams in Murdiston Avenue, described the blast and how he heard cries for help from inside the house. He said: “It was a really deep boom. I looked outside and the house across the road had disappeared. You could see all the insulation raining down from the sky, along with the glass.
“I phoned the emergency services and then went across to see what I could do. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get anywhere near the building, it was too dangerous, but we could hear them shouting from inside. I could hear the male occupant shouting ‘Help me, help me, help me’, but we couldn’t do anything.”
Mr Allan, who ran to alert the couple’s daughter, who lives nearby, added: “It’s a gas explosion, so it’s no wonder there is the devastation that there is here. When I first saw it, I thought, ‘There’s no way anyone has survived that’.”
He said his daughter Nicola, 16, had said she smelled gas in the street on Wednesday night.
Although the area was cordoned off and the majority of the street evacuated, Bill and Carol Palmer stayed in their home.
Mr Palmer said of the explosion: “We both jumped at the same time – it must have been around 5:40am. Carol got out of the bed and initially saw nothing outside. Then we thought it might be something on the main road, but then we looked out of the living room window and saw the devastation.
“There was no fire or smoke – it seemed to have settled very quickly. Certainly, there was no smell of gas or anything after it.
“It’s really amazing that anyone could have survived that. I think it comes down to luck that they appear to have been at the opposite side of the house from where the explosion occurred. Other people have suggested that a wardrobe may have sheltered them from the blast, too.”
Mrs Palmer said: “The firefighters went in and they started to bring the couple out of the blown-out bedroom window on a stretcher. Then they wheeled them to the ambulance.”
The explosion was so loud it was heard on the other side of the town. Eric Brown, proprietor of the Roman Camp Hotel, said: “I heard a loud bang at around 5:45am. It was enough to wake me up.”
A total of 15 residents from homes near the blast site were evacuated, with some staying at a local church hall.
Donald Park, Red Cross senior programme manager for East Scotland, said: “We were asked by Stirling Council to help with a rest centre at Callander Kirk.
“Amongst other things, we have been liaising with GPs and pharmacists in the town to organise supplies of prescription medications for those who need them but had to leave them behind in the emergency evacuation.”
Scottish Gas Network engineers and Stirling Council officials were at the site all day, and power was restored to the street just after 2pm.
Chief Inspector Russell Penman, of Central Scotland Police, confirmed it was being treated as a suspected gas leak.
He said: “We received a call at 5:45am from a resident in the street who had reported an explosion at the house. We attended along with the fire service within five to seven minutes and the fire service extracted the two occupants of the house.
“The HSE [Health and Safety Executive] have advised that no-one can go near the premises in terms of an examination to find a cause until such times as it can be demolished, because the property is too unstable – the roof could slide in any direction at any moment. We have a demolition company coming out.”
Families were expected to get back into their homes last night.