People of Newry rally round so that family who lost home in gas blast enjoy a special Christmas
A traumatised mother who was separated from her children after they were injured in a gas cooker explosion has been reunited with her family in time for Christmas.
Laura Gray (34) had been staying in a B&B with her husband John (34) following the horrific blast in the Barcroft area of Newry on November 20.
"My husband was in the living room when it happened and I had been sitting painting at the kitchen table with the kids - we were waiting for the pictures to dry," she explained last night.
"I went over and stood in front of the cooker and the children followed me.
"All I remember is a very loud bang which was followed by terrifying screams.
"I can still hear the kids screaming.
"I will never forget that sound."
After frantically helping her husband extinguish the flames, Laura was taken to Daisy Hill Hospital with her eldest son John (12) and only daughter Saoirse (10), but due to serious burns to their faces and hands they were transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.
Laura's other son Ryan (7) and family friend Cody Donegan (7) were treated for shock after escaping with singed hair.
"Ryan wasn't hurt so he went to stay with his grandparents in Dundalk, but the other two were taken to the children's ward in the Royal," she said.
"My husband was with them but I wouldn't let doctors treat me until I saw them.
"I just needed to see their faces. I knew my children were hurt and needed me, but I couldn't be there for them - it was a horrible feeling."
They were discharged within 24 hours but had nowhere to go due to the damage caused to their home by the blast.
They won't be able to return until February as repairs are made to the ceiling, walls and windows of the kitchen.
"The Housing Executive put us up in a local B&B but it was only one room with two double beds," Laura said.
The concerned mum didn't want her children living in the cramped conditions.
"They were still in pain. I only allowed one child to stay over and made the others stay with relatives," she added.
The imperfect living situation left Laura distraught at the prospect of being separated from her children over Christmas.
"We had nothing except the clothes on our backs," she recalled.
"But then the people of Newry got behind us."
She praised local councillors Michael Savage and Liz Kimmins for helping her secure temporary accommodation in Drumalane, and thanked the countless community groups and members of the public who have donated money and furniture.
"They have given us everything and it has meant the world to us, it has made my kids smile again", Laura said.
"Everyone's generosity means we have a home to stay in, not just a house.
"We were devastated, because we thought we were on our own, but they have given us a Christmas we thought had been lost."
Laura is now relieved that, despite some tender hands, everyone has healed without any scarring.
"We're still a bit traumatised, but everyone is doing really well and now we have something to look forward to," she added.