Fifteen people injured in Salford gas explosion
Fifteen people have been injured in a suspected gas explosion in Salford, Greater Manchester.
Four houses were destroyed in the blast which ripped through the terraced homes in Merlin Road, Irlam.
Fire service operation director Geoff Ackroyd said people had "crawled over rubble" to reach the trapped before fire crews arrived.
It has emerged that refurbishment work had been carried out in the kitchen of the house at the centre of the blast.
An investigation is under way. Search and rescue teams picked through the rubble as a precaution but scaled back the operation at lunchtime.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has begun a joint inquiry with Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and officers are at the scene.
Residents of the street were awoken by the huge explosion, which sent debris flying down the street and blew in windows, at about 0715 GMT.
Up to 50 firefighters were initially called to the scene and several neighbouring streets were cordoned off by police.
End Quote Christine Hudson Local councillor
It's just absolutely devastating... it's like a war zone”
About 200 properties have been affected by the explosion. The fire service is hoping to reduce the size of the 600m cordon that is surrounding the site later.
Engineers from the National Grid were called in to isolate the gas supply to the street and are working to cut off the gas supply that runs along the front of the damaged properties.
City West Housing Trust, which owns the property, confirmed that work had been carried out at one of the properties and said investigations were ongoing.
Chief executive Tim Doyle said they were doing everything possible to support its residents displaced by the blast.
He added: "We can confirm that we have been carrying out improvement works in this area as part of our extensive investment programme, including at this property.
"We are now working with the emergency services on an ongoing investigation into the cause of the explosion."
Earlier, sniffer dogs had indicated that more people could be trapped in the rubble, but the fire service said it was confident everyone was accounted for.
One of the dogs, called Echo, was used during the search for survivors of the Haiti earthquake and a spokesman said they were using the same tactics in Salford.
Earlier, crews rescued five adults and two children from the property. Fourteen people - including five children - have been taken to Salford Royal Hospital.
A 76-year-old woman suffered 30% burns and was said to be in a serious condition in Wythenshawe Hospital.
Mr Ackroyd paid tribute to people living in the area.
"We've had neighbours gone over and above the call of duty and have gone and rescued their neighbours."
He said it was lucky no-one was fatally injured.
BBC reporter Kevin Fitzpatrick said roof tiles had been blown off and car windows smashed by the force of the blast.'Absolutely devastating'
Local councillor Christine Hudson told the BBC: "It's just absolutely devastating. It's like a war zone, looking at that I'm amazed there's no fatalities.
"I just don't know how they are going to put all this right, right on top of Christmas as well. I really feel for the people involved."
One neighbour Alan Davies said he was awoken by the blast, which blew in the windows of his home.
"I got my glasses, went out to see what was going on, because you could see out the window that the houses had been demolished," he told the BBC.
"There's not a window left in the street... It was just a mess. I didn't believe anybody would ever get out."
Stephanie Van Rosse, a spokeswoman for National Grid, said it was too early to discuss the cause of the blast.
"Explosions like this are rare but, yes, we have dealt with them. And, you know, we are gas emergency professionals and this is what we are trained to be able to deal with," she said.
Greater Manchester Police closed Silver Street, Merlin Road, Morrillion Road, Cutnook Lane and a number of other routes.
A number of people have been evacuated from surrounding homes and sent to Fiddlers Lane Community Primary School, which was has been closed to pupils.
Salford City Council said it had also opened an emergency centre for families at Fit City Cadishead, on Lords Street.
City West Housing Trust confirmed "major works" were being done on the house at the centre of the explosion and their own internal investigations had started.
Mr Doyle added: "At this point our priority is to assist those affected by the explosion. Residents remain our top priority.
"A dedicated team of officers has been established to provide temporary accommodation to all residents in need of emergency shelter.
"All homes that can be repaired and made safe will be done so as a matter of urgency to make sure that as many residents as possible can return home."
Anyone needing further information can telephone the council on 0161 909 6515. City West residents can contact 0300 123 5522.