Belfast Telegraph

Dozens forced to flee Derry bomb alert

Mysterious explosion is probed by police

By Donna Deeney

Dozens of residents were evacuated from their homes last night as police investigated the cause of an explosion in the Waterside area of Londonderry.

Scores of people contacted police to report the blast which was heard over a wide area on both sides of the River Foyle at around 5pm.

Mystery as to what caused the blast remained last night, with theories ranging from an attack on police by dissident republicans to a HGV tyre blow-out or exploding gas cylinder.

Police sealed off several streets in the Spencer Road area and evacuated homes in the wake of the blast.

Windows were broken in the John Street area on the cityside on the other side of the river, but it’s not clear if this was related to the same explosion.

A local community hall was opened to cater for evacuees while others fled to relatives — some as far as across the border.

As daylight breaks today an extensive search of the area known locally as The Quarry off Spencer Road is planned by the PSNI in a bid to find the source of the explosion.

Chief Inspector Garry Eaton told the Belfast Telegraph the decision to evacuate the residents was “precautionary”.

He added: “At around 5pm we received many reports of an explosion from a far reaching area of the city which led to a widespread search area.

“But now we are concentrating the search at The Quarry.

“Because of the lack of light availability at The Quarry and because we cannot rule out any possible cause for the explosion, including a device targeting the police, HGV tyre blow outs and gas canisters, we have advised residents from the area near The Quarry to evacuate.”

Facebook and Twitter fuelled the speculation about the cause of the explosion.

But among those who did hear it was SDLP Councillor Gerard Diver (right) who lives in the Waterside.

He said: “Honestly, I would be surprised if this was just a tyre blow-out which I would have thought would have been short and sharp.

“This explosion reverberated around my house.

“My daughter who was upstairs at the time said she could feel the floorboards vibrate under her feet.

“It certainly sounded as if it was a lot more substantial than a tyre — even one from a HGV.

“But it is strange that hours after it happened the cause of it is still unclear.”

A police presence in the Waterside was evident a very short time after the first reports were received by the police.

Checkpoints appeared on the Crescent Link Road and officers stopped traffic heading away from the Waterside.

Last night police urged the public to be vigilant and not to touch any suspicious object.

A spokesman said: “Police in Foyle are continuing to investigate reports of a loud explosion in the Waterside area just before 5pm this evening.

“Police are asking members of the public in the Waterside area to be extremely vigilant.

“Should they discover any suspicious objects they are asked not to touch them but to contact police immediately.

“Police would also appeal to anyone who witnessed any suspicious activity or vehicles in the area to contact them immediately on 084 5600 8000.

Background

If the source of the blast was a bomb, dissident republicans will top of the list of suspects. There has been consistent dissident activity in the city, with the most serious attack on Strand Road police headquarters in the heart of the city in August 2010, which caused extensive damage. The attack was claimed by the dissident group Oglaigh na hEireann.

Better safe than sorry on night of fear and confusion

Residents in the Waterside told of their alarm after police arrived to evacuate them from their homes four hours after the mystery explosion.

Many people enjoying a quiet night in were shocked as officers advised them to clear out of their homes as they probed the cause of the early evening blast.

The explosion shook floorboards and rattled windows in homes across the city during rush hour and as people prepared dinner.

The blast sparked a multitude of calls to the police, but strangely there was no obvious cause. As darkness descended senior police officers took the decision to evacuate families from the mid-Waterside area of Spencer Road, Dunfield Terrace, and Moore Street as a precautionary measure.

Among those who hastily gathered their belongings, not knowing if they would be out of their homes for a few hours or all night, were Ellen Plews and her husband Don.

They, like many of their neighbours, gathered at Clooney Hall, made available by the local Church of Ireland minister, who also provided welcoming cups of tea and biscuits.

The couple were quite relaxed and accepting of the situation.

They said: “No-one likes to be disturbed — we thought we were settled for the night, but it is better to be safe than sorry so we understand and don’t mind too much.”

It was different for a Lithuanian man who moved to the area two years ago with his friend and her young daughter, who clutched her new 10-week-old puppy Kexus. Darius Burneika said they were very frightened.

He added: “This is not what we are used to. It is the first time we have had to do anything like this, it is very frightening. We are all scared.”

Also sitting nearby waiting for news were two young couples from Poland.

Both women are in the latter stages of pregnancy, and all were concerned for the safety of their unborn children. Other residents, including the Curran family who live in Dunfield Terrace, decided to stay with relatives.

Emma Curran said: “A policeman knocked on the door and explained they were searching for the source of a reported explosion and told us they were sealing off Dunfield and Moore Street.

“He said we could leave the house and Clooney Hall would be available to us. However, if we decided to stay they would take a note of it, but we are going to stay in my granny’s house just in case.”

Derry City Centre manager Jim Roddy was also at Clooney Hall, accompanied by recently appointed chief executive of Derry City Council, Sharon |O’Connor, and local councillors who helped PSNI officers, including Chief Inspector Garry Eaton, keep the residents up to date as the situation developed.

Among the possibilities discussed as the hours passed, particularly with regard to the two pregnant women, was a possible relocation to the Tower Hotel for the night.

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