Much-loved characters lie motionless amid the rubble after a tram crashes onto Coronation Street, leaving viewers to wonder who will survive the devastation.
The soap's 50th anniversary celebrations kick off on Monday night when an explosion in The Joinery bar causes a Weatherfield tram to plummet off the viaduct onto the cobbles below.
After celebrating his stag night in the new bar, Peter Barlow (Chris Gascoyne) is left trapped and fighting for his life alongside love rival Nick Tilsley (Ben Price).
Also in peril in the debris of The Joinery are butcher Ashley Peacock (Steven Arnold), cabbie Lloyd Mullaney (Craig Charles), barman Ciaran McCarthy (Keith Duffy), barmaid Cheryl Gray (Holly Quin-Ankrah), businessman Dev Alahan (Jimmi Harkishin) and Cheryl's ex Chris (Will Thorp).
Familiar landmarks The Kabin and Corner Shop are demolished, leaving Molly Dobbs (Vicky Binns) and her baby Jack, Dev's wife Sunita (Shobna Gulati) and Kabin owner Rita Sullivan (Barbara Knox) overcome by flying bricks and shards of glass.
Ken Barlow (William Roache) and bride-to-be Leanne Battersby (Jane Danson) are knocked off their feet by the blast as they rush to stop Nick revealing her affair to fiancé Peter.
The disaster and its aftermath will unfold over five nights next week, with a special hour-long live episode due to air on Thursday night, 10 years after the soap staged a live broadcast for its 40th birthday.
Special-effects expert Danny Hargreaves was brought in to create explosions, mechanical stunts, fire, and atmospheric effects such as wind and rain for the dramatic scenes, and computer-generated imagery (CGI) experts The Mill enhanced the tram crash sequence.
Producer Phil Collinson said the tram stunt cost “not far off” £1m.
He added: “We had to ask ITV for an awful lot of money and they said yes. I wish I'd asked for more. I will learn next time — not that there will be a next time.”
Roache, who has been in the soap since the first episode, said he shed “tears of pride” when he saw a preview screening yesterday. And he said departed cast members would have been “proud and |impressed” by the spectacle.
“We did the train crash way back in the 1960s, and that didn't have half the impact,” he said.
Collinson shrugged off worries about harsh weather conditions, saying the possibility of snow was all part of the experience of live television.
“We wanted to put the live episode right in the middle with fire, explosions, flames, stunts, death, fire engines, everything we could throw at it. It's amazing, huge and, fingers crossed, astonishing,” he said.
“That's what live is about. If it snows, we'll plough on. If something falls out of the sky, we'll plough on regardless. And if the tram falls down, we'll plough on, and if any of those things happen the audience will enjoy it even more. That's the business of live and that's what we're embracing.”