Gas blast wrecked dance studio just hour after children were in building
Children were in a dance studio just an hour before it was destroyed in a suspected gas explosion.
Witnesses told of their shock that they were able to walk away alive after several buildings collapsed in New Ferry, Wirral, at about 9.15pm on Saturday.
Thirty-four people were injured, two seriously, in the blast which left debris scattered along the street and forced the evacuation of people from the surrounding area to a nearby church.
Restaurant diners told how they tried to help casualties in the aftermath of the explosion.
Helen Hudson said she had been in nearby Chinese restaurant Lan's House with husband Steve and friends when the blast blew the front of the building in.
She said: "There was a man underneath a table who my husband helped to get out.
"Another woman had a bad injury to her cheekbone.
"It was so frightening, we thought it was a terrorist attack.
"There was blood everywhere and dust everywhere.
"Our ears are still ringing now.
"We didn't know if there would be another explosion so we thought we had to get out and we climbed through the front of the restaurant.
"The men were all helping the women get out and there were women with prams trying to get babies out.
"I can't believe we walked away alive."
Leanne Stewart, who lives near the site of the explosion, was in a pub and ran home to make sure her children, aged seven and three, were safe.
She said: " I was in the pub when I heard the bang and and I came running out because I knew I had to get the kids out.
"I just ran in and got them.
She added: "I think the front of the house is all gone now, I didn't look when I ran in to get the kids and we don't know when we'll be allowed back."
Janette Williamson, who lives close to the scene on the edge of model village Port Sunlight, said: " I thought it was a bomb, everything just shook."
Chairman of New Ferry Residents' Association Mark Craig said a row of four shops with a dance studio above had collapsed.
He said: "Just an hour before, there were children in the studio."
He added: "The community is in shock but you can see the community spirit and everyone is pulling together."
The two seriously injured people are being cared for at Aintree Hospital.
Roads surrounding the blast site remained closed on Sunday as emergency services, who said some people may not be able to return home for a number of days, continued to work at the scene.
Hundreds of pounds have already been donated by well-wishers to help repair the destroyed dance studio, called Complete Works.
Lauren Dickson, who set up the JustGiving fund-raising page, said the whole business had been destroyed.
A post on the Complete Works Facebook page said: "We are absolutely devastated that our lovely dance studios were impacted by tonight's events but first and foremost we are so very grateful that no one was in them at the time and now we hope there are no serious injuries and that everyone local is safe."
The sound of the huge blast was caught on dashcam footage by a personal carer as he drove past.
Adam Dingwall, 36, told the Press Association he was driving through Port Sunlight when the explosion happened.
He said: "Because I'm a first aider I drove over there while my wife phoned 999.
"When we pulled up we could see that the building was destroyed and someone was lying in the street."
He described the insides of affected houses as "a complete mess".
The cause of the explosion has not yet been established and is under investigation.
"We are checking our local gas mains network and so far there has been no indication of any faults on it," a National Grid spokesman said.
Engineers had been called out a number of times in the days before the blast but had found no trace of a gas leak, he added.