Clacton gas explosion: Ten injured and houses flattened
Ten people were injured in a gas explosion that "flattened" two houses on a street in Clacton, Essex.
Eyewitnesses described the street, Cloes Lane, "shaking" during the explosion, while Essex assistant chief fire officer Paul Hill said the power of the blast was "extraordinary".
A man in his 70s and a woman in her 50s were badly burnt in the fire that followed. Both are now in a "stable" condition, Broomfield Hospital said.
A third house was also badly damaged.
Mr Hill said the explosion, which happened at about 08:30 GMT, had even damaged other homes in neighbouring streets and it was "extremely fortunate" that no-one had been killed.
The two most seriously injured people were taken to Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford, which has a specialist burns unit.
Eight others were taken to Colchester Hospital with injuries including burns and broken legs. Seven of them have since been discharged.
Essex Police said 19 properties had been evacuated; 10 in Cloes Lane and nine in the road behind it.
Wayne Reekie, who pulled people from the wreckage, said: "It's chaos. One house is down. There's nothing left of it, just rubble.
"There were two people trapped, and a couple of dogs, which I got out.
"I just wanted to help people just get out. There was a lady who was severely burned; we got her to an ambulance and kept her warm."
Lynda Brown, who lives 150 yards away from the explosion, said: "We saw loft insulation blowing down the road. You could smell the gas; everybody was hanging out the windows saying, 'what was that?'"
'Turned to jelly'
Dave Brown, 70, was on his way to buy a newspaper when the explosion happened.
"I heard a bang and at first I thought it was two cars hitting each other," he said.
"The explosion pushed me forwards and knocked me off my feet. A bloke in a car got out and said 'Are you all right?' He said a house had exploded.
"I saw a bloke climbing out with no clothes on. There was a man downstairs trying to climb up on the debris and a woman of about 70 or 80 trapped under the building.
"I tried to go and help them but my head was spinning and my legs turned to jelly. I stood there and felt helpless. By this time other people had come to help them."
Assistant divisional officer Lee Palfreyman, of Essex Fire and Rescue, said: "The blast flattened two houses and badly damaged a third.
"Debris flew in all directions damaging windows and roofs."
Essex Fire Service, Essex Police, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the National Grid are carrying out an investigation into the cause of the blast.
Stephanie van Rosse, from the National Grid, said it did not appear as though there were any faults in the pipes leading up to gas meters of the three badly-damaged houses.
She said further tests would be carried out once demolition work has been completed. Work to tear down the main house has begun.
She added there had been no recent mains replacement work in the area.
A reception centre has been set up at Clacton Town Hall for residents evacuated from their homes.
Essex Police said the area surrounding the homes would remain cordoned off overnight.
Clacton's Conservative MP, Douglas Carswell, tweeted: "My thoughts are with those in Cloes Lane #clacton affected by explosion."
A Facebook group has already been set up to support and offer donations to the victims of the blast.
Paul Reed wrote on the page: "My mum and other family was in the house you are seeing on the news, all of them are in hospital being treated, but don't have any news at the min.
"All of the belongings have been destroyed."
Clacton resident Kerry Jones-Montague, who set up the group, said: "People are offering lifts, furniture, crockery, whatever they can."