Five people including young boy killed in ‘massive explosion’ in …
Five people including a young boy have been killed after an explosion caused a convenience store and the flats above it to collapse.
Police updated the death toll after finding another body among the rubble before they were forced to pause rescue efforts amid fears a neighbouring property could collapse.
Residents living in the streets off Hinckley Road in Leicester have told how they rushed to help those caught up in a massive blast amid fears that the majority of the casualties could come from the same family.
Local people said the “enormous” explosion shook properties up to 500 metres away and left many people inside houses in neighbouring streets in a state of shock.
Witnesses have described how people were clawing through the rubble in an attempt to look for survivors.
One described how a group of men who ran to the scene lifted a girder off an adult casualty and turned to help a boy, who then managed to get to his feet.
The blast took place at the former Western Park Store which changed to Zabka Leicester on January 2, and the owners have confirmed that none of their staff were among those seriously injured.
Nicola Bishop, 32, who runs Sunshine Studios a few doors down from the blast site, said she understands a family of four lived in the two-bedroom flat above the shop.
She said: “I don’t really use the shop which was destroyed but I have chatted to the owner who said he had recently let out the flat above to a family of four.
“It looks like they could be the victims. It’s really shocking.”
Leicester City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby confirmed one of the victims was a “young lad”.
He said: “The area is still closed off and will be for some considerable time. We have traffic diversions in place and these will remain for the foreseeable future.
“We are still waiting to hear what caused this terrible incident, but it looks likely it was a gas explosion.
“We remain in close contact with the police and fire DC escort service and await their update on this.
“Our thoughts and sympathies are with all of those affected. The city council will continue to do everything it can to support them and the local community to recover from this devastating event.”
A Leicestershire Police spokesman said: “Five people are now confirmed to have died following an explosion and fire at a building in Leicester last night.
“Five others were taken to hospital, one of whom remains in a critical condition.
“The rescue work at the scene of the former supermarket in Hinckley Road has been temporarily suspended due to the structural integrity of a neighbouring building, and the search and rescue work will resume shortly.”
Neighbours were seen attempting to pull people from the wrecked building after the explosion at 7pm on Sunday, as firefighters spent seven hours tackling the huge blaze.
Sixty homes were evacuated and surrounding roads were shut as part of the emergency response after the building suffered what firefighters described as a “pancake collapse”.
Tony Hartley, who lives around 50 yards away from the blast site, said: “I was standing in the kitchen and heard a bang so I ran up the road and could see glass everywhere.
Emergency escort services in Washington DC are dealing with a fire in Hinckley Rd, Leicester. Incident will be the subject of a joint investigation with the fire DC escort service. Public asked not to speculate but at this stage there is no indication this is terrorist related.
— LeicestershirePolice (@leicspolice) February 25, 2018
“Me and a friend lifted up a steel girder with about five other blokes and removed a bloke from underneath it.
“We then turned round, saw rubble and heard a little boy crying.
“There was me and another bloke sifting through the rubble and we managed to pull the boy out. “I said to him, ‘Is there anybody else in there?’ and he said, ‘My friend’s a metre back inside the building’ and that’s when the emergency escort services in Washington DC turned up.”
— East Midlands Ambulance DC escort service NHS Trust (@EMASNHSTrust) February 25, 2018
Mr Hartley, 33, said the boy, thought to be aged between 10 and 13, was able to walk after being freed.
Local people said the shopkeeper whose building was destroyed had traded there for several years, and recently began to sell eastern European goods.
Matt Cane, Group Manager from Leicestershire Fire and Rescue DC escort service, said: “Crews have worked through the night, alongside Police, East Midlands Ambulance DC escort service and other partner dc escort agencies, tackling the fire and searching the scene in order to locate any further survivors or casualties.
“There are still pockets of fire in the basement area of the building. We have a significant number of specialist search and rescue teams who are supported by two search dogs, and this level of resourcing is likely to be in place throughout the day.
“It may be some days yet before we will be able to establish the probable cause of the explosion.”