Clacton: Two people in hospital as massive blast destroys homes

Scene of devastation at the site of an explosion in Cloes Lane, Clacton. Scene of devastation at the site of an explosion in Cloes Lane, Clacton.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014
9:44 PM

Two people were in hospital last night after a huge explosion destroyed two houses and prompted mass evacuations in Clacton.

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Firefighters in action in Cloes Lane, Clacton - photo courtesy of Essex Fire and Rescue ServiceFirefighters in action in Cloes Lane, Clacton - photo courtesy of Essex Fire and Rescue Service

Residents of the town’s Cloes Lane were thrown from their beds as a devastating blast – likened to a bomb going off – completely destroyed a semi-detached house and tore through half of the adjoining property, which was at first left hanging precariously.

Earlier this evening, what was left of the semi-detached houses which were damaged was demolished.

Firefighters, who believe a domestic gas fault caused the blast, admitted it was a “miracle” that no-one died. An investigation into the incident remains ongoing.

More than a dozen people were thought to have been left homeless after 19 properties were evacuated and 10 people were taken to hospital.

One man, a resident of the house razed to the ground and believed to be in his 70s, was airlifted in a life-threatening condition to Broomfield Hospital – which has a specialist burns unit – in Chelmsford. Last night both were in a ‘stable’ condition with life-changing injuries.

A woman, thought to be in her 50s, was taken to the same hospital by ambulance suffering from severe burns.

The blast, which happened at around 8.25am, took place “less than a minute away” from St Clare’s Catholic Primary School in Cloes Lane. Witnesses, visibly shaken and tearful in the aftermath of the blast, said it was “extremely lucky” pupils walking to school were not harmed.

Tendring District Council set up an emergency meeting point providing refreshments and shelter at Clacton’s Town Hall for people forced to flee their homes.

Most evacuees have now returned home and only a few remain homeless, according to reports.

Around a dozen evacuated residents chose to gather at nearby pub The Brace Of Pistols in St John’s Road.

Gas and electricity supplies have been replaced to most homes affected.

This morning’s blast comes after three homes in nearby Wellesley Road were demolished following a huge gas explosion in April 2012 which left a woman in her 70s with serious burns.

Immediately after this morning’s explosion, neighbours could be seen clambering over the rubble in a desperate bid to help save lives. Debris flew in all directions, damaging windows and roofs.

Firefighters, police, paramedics and brave residents fought thick smoke and fierce flames as the quiet residential street soon resembled a war zone.

Shards of glass, crushed brickwork and what appeared to be woollen loft insulation material could be seen strewn across pavements and roads around 50 metres from the scene.

Eyewitness Teresa Reed was walking to her job as a lollipop lady at St Clare’s Catholic Primary School at the time of the blast.

“I was four houses away when it exploded. It was like a bomb,” she said.

“It was shocking. Smoke covered the road. Cars had to swerve out of the way. Neighbours came running out of the house. Everyone was panicking.

“I didn’t know what to do, but thought my duty was to the schoolchildren. I ran to work, got my uniform on and made sure they were not in danger.

“It was extremely lucky none of them walking to school were injured. Parents were in tears picking them up. It was chaos,” she added.

Emergency services said if the blaze took place 10 minutes later, with dozens of St Clare’s primary schoolchildren being dropped off by parents, the extent of the injuries would have been “unthinkable”.

The school was closed for the day. The school playground was used as a helipad for the air ambulances.

Speaking at the scene, Paul Hill, assistant chief fire officer for Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, said: “As far as we understand at the moment it involves domestic gas and all of our experience tells us that is probably the cause.”

He added it was a “miracle” no fatalities were reported at the scene.

“Someone was looking over that house,” he said. “One house has been destroyed and two others will need to be pulled.

“I’m surprised it was not a much more tragic incident. It was an extremely powerful explosion.”

Paramedics confirmed critical care had been given to two people at Broomfield Hospital with eight others taken to Colchester General Hospital. Injuries included burns and broken limbs.

Colchester Hospital confirmed four of the casualties had been released.

A spokesman for National Grid said the cause of the explosion is “unknown at this time”.

“Our investigations on the gas pipes in the immediate area have shown our network to be sound.

“This includes the gas pipe in the streets and the gas pipes leading to the properties,” she said.

“We have cut off the gas supplies to three affected properties.

“We are able to confirm that we have not received any calls into the gas emergency service recently and we have not been carrying out any work in the immediate vicinity of the explosion.

“We will not be able to carry out any further investigations until the area is structurally safe to do so.”

An Essex Police spokesman tonight said the force is continuing to work with Essex County Fire and Rescue Service to establish the cause of the explosion.

A police cordon and various road closures will remain in place in the area for security and safety reasons.

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