RESIDENTS in a seaside resort have expressed “amazement” that no-one died in a suspected gas explosion which destroyed two houses and left ten people injured.
Cloes Lane, a quiet street in the Essex town of Clacton, was turned into a scene of “chaos” yesterday morning after a blast with the power of a “bomb going off” reduced two semi- detached properties to a smouldering pile of rubble and damaged several others.
One man, believed to be in his 70s, last night remained in a life-threatening condition after the explosion at around 8:30am while a woman, thought to be in her fifties, suffered severe burns.
Eight others were treated in hospital for injuries including burns and broken ribs, four of them being released from hospital later.
Firefighters believe a domestic gas fault is likely to have caused the explosion, which left the walking wounded stumbling through bricks, wood, loft insulation and other debris strewn across the street.
Shocked neighbours, who rifled through masonry to pull survivors free and tend to the injured, said they were surprised the blast had not claimed any casualties, with one man telling how he thought he “would just be pulling bodies” out of the rubble.
Other residents recalled how their houses shook while they were sitting having breakfast, while some said they felt their heart doing “flips” after returning home to find the scene of devastation.
One of the first on the scene, Darren Bond, was about to take his eight-year-old daughter to school.
The plasterer described hearing a “huge bang” like a “truck crashing into a house”. After making sure his wife and daughter stayed inside, he went out to find a scene of “total devastation”.
“One of the houses opposite had just disappeared and the other was only half there,” the 34-year-old said. “It was clear there had been a huge explosion.
“I rushed over and could hear people shouting. We found a man and a woman trapped inside the remains of the house that had collapsed, we pulled away bricks and timber to get them out and made them as comfortable as we could.
“The family in the next door house couldn’t get out because the blast had knocked in their door so we helped them out of a window.”
He added: “I did think that there might be another explosion but we knew we had to get those people out of the rubble and debris as fast as possible.”
Wayne Reekie, 32, who also helped rescue some of those trapped in the rubble, described the events as “chaos,” with “nothing left” of one house.
He said: “There were two people trapped, and a couple of dogs, which I got out. I just wanted to help people, just get people out. There was a lady who was severely burned, we got her to an ambulance and kept her warm.
“A mattress was on top of the man – it looked like he was still in bed. The woman was screaming in pain, she wanted to be with her husband.”
The father-of five added “We cleared the rubble from on top of her and pulled her free as the firefighters arrived. It was amazing that people survived the blast. I thought we would just be pulling bodies out of there.”
Gail Chapman, 67, who lives opposite one of the houses that was turned to rubble, said the force of the explosion felt like “a train hitting the house”.
The windows of the her property were shattered in the incident and her roof was damaged. The roof of her garden shed, located around 100 feet away, was torn clean off.
She recalled: “We were sitting there and all the glass came in, the roof fell on the car, light fittings broke.”
Stuart Coe, one of those who heard the explosion, said: “We were sitting there having breakfast and the next thing we heard this almighty bang and literally everything shook in the house – the conservatory shook, it felt like the roof was shaking.
“Obviously, the kids were upset and crying, we didn’t know what was going on. And then we started fearing there had been an explosion and one of the neighbours believes she saw British Gas in the area yesterday.
“Within minutes of the explosion, we started hearing sirens coming down the road. It’s like a bomb going off… It was a pretty nasty event.”
Cloes Lane resident Gwenelt Mitchell, who is about 30 yards from the blast scene, was out taking her granddaughter to work at the time of the blast and was astonished to witness the aftermath on her return.
“I didn’t know anything about it until I had got home. There was a very strong acidy, smoky smell in the air,” the Conservative councillor explained.
“My heart has been doing flips ever since I heard the news. You don’t expect this to happen so close to your own home.”
Even though the 70-year-old’s home is about 12 houses away from the scene of the blast, the shockwaves caused the hatch to her loft to fall open. She added: “I thank God that it’s not me involved and I dearly hope that no-one is badly injured. There is insulation being blown up the road, which I presume has come from the house, and we have had people from the gas and electricity boards here.”
Some 19 properties were evacuated following the blast, which caused debris to fly “in all directions, damaging windows and roofs” according to Essex Fire Service.
Assistant divisional officer Lee Palfreyman, the incident commander, said everyone had been accounted for, but firefighters used a search and rescue dog to ensure no casualities were buried beneath the rubble.
East of England Ambulance Service confirmed critical care had been given to two people at Broomfield Hospital, with eight others taken to Colchester General Hospital.
Colchester Hospital confirmed four of the casualties had been released.
Paul Hill, assistant chief fire officer for Essex, said: “As far as we understand at the moment, it involves domestic gas and all of our experience tells us that’s probably the cause. If we get through this event with no fatalities we’ll be overjoyed. This was an extremely powerful explosion and the adjoining properties have been left derelict.”