Homes flattened in Manchester gas explosion
At least 11 people were injured today in a gas explosion which destroyed a row of homes and left firefighters battling to establish if anyone was trapped in the rubble.
The blast tore through the terraced properties in Irlam, Salford, Greater Manchester, shortly before 7.15am, spraying passers-by with flying glass.
Residents in Merlin Road reported waking up to a massive "booming noise".
A North West Ambulance spokesman said one woman in her 70s was in a critical condition after being rushed to Wythenshawe Hospital with 30pc burns.
Two adults and three children were taken to Salford's Hope Hospital with minor injuries.
Three other people were treated at the scene for minor wounds - two were hit by flying glass and debris and one man was injured when his ceiling collapsed.
"The only serious injury is the elderly lady and we have no information about people possibly unaccounted for," said the spokesman.
Police, paramedics and more than 40 firefighters were involved in the operation, along with dogs from the fire brigade's Urban Search and Rescue Team.
William Billinge, 65, was woken in neighbouring Silver Street by a "very loud bang" which shook his house.
He rushed outside and saw the homes reduced to rubble.
"There's nothing left of them.
"There is debris everywhere, all over the place.
"Four houses completely flattened," he said.
Carolyn Patten, 64, a retired office worker, said: "There was a huge booming noise at around 7am this morning.
"The road is just adjacent to the M62, so I just thought it was a crash on the motorway.
"Then pretty quickly we heard all the sirens and realised that something was going on down the other end of the road."
Tesco night shift worker Barbara Holgate had just got home when she heard the blast and said there was a strong smell of gas.
"They have evacuated a lot of people," she said.
"They were knocking on doors, telling people to get out."
Nearby Fiddlers Lane Community Primary School was closed to pupils but opened to help evacuated residents.
Teams from National Grid, which owns and operates the gas pipes, were in the process of isolating the gas supply to Merlin Road.
A spokeswoman said: "We are cutting the gas supply off to the whole of Merlin Road as a precaution.
"It should all be cut off by around lunchtime.
"But because it's still a rescue operation we have not been able to do any testing at the scene itself.
"Once the rescue has been completed and they say they have found everyone they are expecting to find we can go back in and start testing."
Around 80 properties have been evacuated, she added.
Fire liaison officer Paul Etches said: "It has been absolute chaos at the outset and to gather people and the information.
"We are carrying out a systematic search at the moment using our Search and Rescue Team.
"However, there is nobody else reported missing.
"Everybody that came out came out in the very early stages of the incident.
"Search and Rescue haven't found people buried but that is the process we are going through and can't say it is clear.
"It is going to be mid to late afternoon, possibly early evening, before we get to any normality."
Mr Etches said a total of 11 people were injured - four children and seven adults.
He said two people took themselves to hospital and the ambulance service was unaware of them.