'Miraculous' more not hurt in Salford 'gas' blast
Fire crews have said they are "amazed" more people were not seriously injured in a suspected gas explosion in Salford, Greater Manchester.
Three homes were flattened and 20 properties were damaged in the blast in Merlin Road at about 0715 GMT.
A woman aged 82 is in a critical but stable condition in hospital. Fourteen others suffered minor injuries.
Firefighter Paul Duggan said seeing such damage being caused in "a blink of the eye" was "astonishing".
Of the 14 victims with minor injuries, five of them are children. Eleven have since been discharged from Salford Royal Hospital and three adults are due to remain in overnight as a precaution, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The 82-year-old victim is being treated at Wythenshawe Hospital.
The source of the explosion has been traced back to the middle house of the three destroyed in the blast.
A new kitchen and bathroom had just been fitted.
Tim Doyle, chief executive of City West Housing, the firm which owns the property, said he believed it was a gas explosion.
"It would be extremely unlikely that what has happened is not connected with the work carried out," he said.
He apologised for distress caused by the accident and said the company would "take full responsibility" if it was to blame.
A spokesman for the housing company added: "As part of the work, the cooker was disconnected at the start of the day and reconnected at the end of the day.
"A full investigation is being carried out and we don't have any information as yet."
Susan Bennett, 48, of Merlin Road, lives three doors down from the house at the centre of the blast.
She said she had seen an elderly woman outside the property.
"She was screaming help, help, she said 'it was my house'. She said she turned the cooker on to make her porridge and then there was the explosion.
"No-one knew what was going to happen. I thought the world was coming to an end. It was just horrible."
Mr Duggan, who was the first incident commander on the scene, said debris had flown as far as 328ft (100m) down the road from the epicentre of the blast.
"It was total chaos, when we first arrived the first thing I noticed was a bath in the middle of someone's garden," he said.
"We rescued the 82-year-old woman from the property, she was surrounded by rubble and we had to carry her out.
"I am amazed, it is miraculous that there weren't more people seriously injured."
Even before firefighters had arrived at the scene, neighbours had started crawling over the rubble to rescue those who were trapped.
Vinnie Jones, who lives five doors from the explosion, spotted a woman clutching a baby in a bedroom of one of the damaged houses and rushed to help her.
"The back of her house had just blown off," he said. "She was trapped."
He carried the child down the ladder before returning and carrying the woman to safety.
"It was just instinct and adrenaline," he said.
A 600m cordon that had been placed around the 200 affected homes was reduced in the late afternoon and residents started to return to their properties.
However, the cordon was later re-installed due to structural concerns and people have now been told they cannot return to their properties overnight for safety reasons.
They are in temporary accommodation at the homes of relatives, friends, an emergency centre for families at Fit City Cadishead and nearby Fiddler's Lane Primary School.
Barbara Spicer, Salford City Council's chief executive, said: "I have spent most of today in Irlam with local councillors and we have seen the amazing community spirit that has been shown in these awful circumstances.
"Unfortunately we will not be able to get the residents from within the cordon back into their homes this evening because we cannot be sure that the houses are structurally sound."
Silver Street, Merlin Road, Morrillion Road, Cutnook Lane and a number of other nearby routes remain closed.
Mr Doyle, of City West Housing, said 100 hotel rooms had been booked in nearby hotels and 12 to 25 properties on the edge of the blast would need structural checks.
The Health and Safety Executive has begun a joint inquiry with Greater Manchester Police.