Gas leak fears raised a day before Wirral blast

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Media captionDrone footage shows the blast destruction

People living close to the site of a major explosion on Merseyside reported smelling gas at least 24 hours beforehand, it has emerged.

Reports of leaks were probed before the suspected gas blast in Wirral on Saturday, the National Grid confirmed.

Two people were seriously hurt and 31 others injured when several buildings collapsed in the blast - described as being like an earthquake - on Saturday.

A children's dance studio - being used just an hour before - was destroyed.

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

A Merseyside Police investigation is under way after the explosion, which happened at about 21:15 GMT, in Boundary Road, Bebington.

Mark Craig, Chair of New Ferry Residents' Association said a row of four shops that were below the dance studio above had also collapsed in the blast.

"Just an hour before, there were children in the studio," he said.

'No faults'

The National Grid said it had found no trace of gas when it investigated the report in Bebington Road, New Ferry - not far from the scene - and in other parts of the area on Friday.

"Our local gas mains network has been checked and no faults have been found on it," it also said in a statement.

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Image caption Twelve ambulances and up to 40 firefighters dealt with the aftermath of the explosion

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

A police spokeswoman said 18 of the casualties were taken to hospital and a further 15 went to the Countess of Chester and Arrowe Park hospitals themselves, to get treatment.

Ch Insp David Westby said officers had been at all the hospitals.

'Whole house shook'

"Detectives are gathering the relevant information in relation to victims and we will commence the investigation... from this point on," he said earlier.

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.

Image copyright Lew Hopkins/ Google Streetview
Image caption Images (top) show the aftermath of the collapse and the building beforehand (below)

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

"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.

A local church offered shelter to more than 100 people in the aftermath of the blast, which will take some time to investigate.

"There is very significant damage, so it will be some time before people will be allowed back into their homes," said Dan Stephens, chief officer at Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service.

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