Dozens injured in Wirral explosion

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Media captionDrone footage shows the blast destruction

Two people were seriously injured and 31 others hurt when several buildings collapsed in a suspected gas explosion on Merseyside.

Houses shook and windows shattered in the blast - described as being like an earthquake - leaving bricks and debris strewn on roads in Bebington, Wirral.

A number of houses in the area were evacuated and more than 100 people were moved overnight to a nearby church.

A dance studio for children, which was unoccupied at the time, was destroyed.

Merseyside Police said the two most seriously injured casualties are being treated at Aintree hospital and the Walton neurological centre in Liverpool.

A spokeswoman said 18 of the casualties were taken to hospital and a further 15 went to local hospitals themselves to get treatment.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Eyewitnesses saw someone lying in the street just after the explosion
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Image caption The fire service has warned the after effects of the explosion will last for some time

Dan Stephens, chief officer at Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, said the scale of damage in Boundary Road was considerable.

"It's what we would describe as a total collapse, or the explosion has blown the walls out, which has caused the roof to collapse," he said.

"It's a very significant debris field and [there is] lots of structural damage to the surrounding buildings."

Emergency services were called to a "major incident" at about 21:15 GMT on Saturday.

At the scene: Kevin Fitzpatrick and Roisin Hastie BBC News

Police tape surrounds a large area around the scene as residents look on from behind a cordon.

They are shell-shocked but relieved it wasn't more serious.

A massive clean-up operation is under way, after rubble was strewn everywhere and abandoned cars completely smashed up.

A witness, who was in nearby pub, said it was "raining bricks" outside after the blast, which many thought was a bomb going off.

The explosion destroyed a dance school and shook several surrounding buildings, a number of which later collapsed.

One couple in a nearby restaurant described windows being blown in as terrified customers dived under tables.

The seriously injured people were taken to Aintree Hospital in Liverpool. Others, less badly hurt, were treated at the Countess of Chester and Arrowe Park hospitals in Merseyside.

One person was taken to the Royal Liverpool Hospital, North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) said.

Ch Insp David Westby, of Merseyside Police, said an investigation was under way.

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Image caption Merseyside Fire Service described the scale of the damage as considerable

He said: "We've got officers at all the hospitals. Detectives are gathering the relevant information in relation to victims and we will commence the investigation...from this point on."

Eyewitness Adam Dingwell, 36, described seeing someone lying in the street as he drove through Port Sunlight at the time of the explosion.

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Media captionFootage from the Liverpool Echo showed the extent of the damage

"We pulled straight over and tried to establish what had happened. Someone came running from the direction of the noise saying that there had been an explosion and a building had been destroyed," he said.

"When we pulled up we could see... someone was lying in the street", he said.

The fire service has warned the after-effects of the explosion will last for some time.

Image copyright Lew Hopkins/ Google Streetview
Image caption Images (top) show the aftermath of the collapse and the building beforehand (below)
Image copyright Tom Dagnall
Image caption The destroyed building housed Complete Works dance studios which teaches children from the age of 3

"This incident is likely to be protracted. There is very significant damage, so it will be some time before people will be allowed back into their homes," Mr Stephens said.

Lew Hopkins, who lives close to the site, said the blast "sounded like an earthquake".

"Our whole house shook. It sounded like the windows were about to smash in," he said.

"I know people about five, six miles away and they heard the explosion as well. Straight away, I ran into the street and all the neighbours were outside."

Another resident, Mark Hamley, said: "There was a sense of quiet at first. Then you'd hear the odd shout or scream and cry.

"My main concern was for my girlfriend and my baby. I wanted to know they were safe. I put some clothes on, went outside and by the time that happened, the police were on the scene."

Josh Parry, of The Liverpool Echo, told BBC News the dance studio was next door to a Chinese restaurant, where a number of customers may have been injured.

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Image caption Rescue teams with dogs are at the scene

He described a "significant" emergency response with about 12 ambulances and between 30 and 40 firefighters on site.

"There's been a huge amount of National Grid workers here, a huge response from the fire and ambulance and police, but also five or six accounts from people in the area that said yesterday they could smell gas in the area.

"That has not, I must stress, come officially from anywhere yet, but that is something that a number of people who live in the area have said to me," he added.

Local MP Alison McGovern, said: "I live in New Ferry. I obviously felt it, didn't know what it was and then it became clear that there had been this very large explosion.

"I would just ask people to stay away if they can, keep clear of the area and just let the police and the emergency services do their job."

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Image caption Homes have had to be evacuated
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Image caption Twelve ambulances and up to 40 firefighters dealt the aftermath of the explosion
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Image caption The surrounding streets have been littered with debris

A local pastor, Aaron Partington, opened the doors of the My Life Church in Bebington to offer food and shelter to residents forced from their homes.

"There's been over a hundred people through the doors here. There's been a lot of stunned people," he said.

"A lot of people just feeling really, really at a loss.

"You kind of see this stuff happening on the news in other places, you don't really think it's going to happen on your doorstep."

A message posted 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."

More than £600 has already been donated to help the dance school recover from the loss of its building.

Lauren Dickson, who set up the Just Giving page to raise funds, wrote: "Please donate anything you can to get Complete Works studios back on their feet."

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