Oxford explosion: Person still missing after flats fire

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Media captionOxford Mail reporter films Osney Mead explosion

One person remains unaccounted for after an explosion near a block of flats west of Oxford city centre.

The blast happened in the Osney Lane and Gibbs Crescent area at about 16:45 GMT on Tuesday, causing a three-storey building to collapse.

Oxfordshire County Council said 40 firefighters fought the resulting blaze.

Thames Valley Police said it expected to be at the scene for several days. The cause is unknown.

The BBC understands the person unaccounted for is male.

Two people have been treated for minor injuries and one was taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

Image copyright Alexander Hammonds
Image caption Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service said the explosion had caused a building collapse

John Gardner, who lives in nearby Bridge Street, said the blast was a "scary rumble" that "sounded like scaffolding coming down".

Ben Brewis was working in the Thames Business Centre on Osney Mead when the "ferocious explosion quite literally rocked the building".

He added: "I still can't get my head around the force of the blast.

"The ground shook and the lights dimmed even though we're a few streets away over the river.

"We thought a lorry had ploughed into the building or a plane had crashed nearby. The whole of Oxford heard it. It was no rumble but a huge blast."

Image copyright Alexander Hammonds
Image caption People were evacuated from nearby homes

A number of properties were evacuated and residents have been given temporary accommodation by the council, with the Red Cross providing assistance. About 20 people have been made homeless.

South Central Ambulance Service's hazardous area team and Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service are still at the scene, alongside urban search and rescue specialists from Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue.

Risk assessments have taken place and a search is under way.

'People in shock'

Kerry Blair, Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue's incident commander, said: "Work has been taking place to seek to give us the ability to reduce the current extent of cordon and allow the phased return of some residents to their homes.

"Around 25 firefighters have remained at the scene this afternoon to undertake this work."

Supt Joe Kidman of Thames Valley Police said: "This was a very concerning incident and emergency services are likely to have a significant presence in the area in the coming days.

"At this time one person remains unaccounted for and we are offering ongoing support to that person's family.

"I can assure you that a full and thorough investigation is being carried out into this incident by detectives, crime scene investigators and fire investigators, although at this stage it is too early for us to comment on what the cause of the reported explosion and fire was. "

Image caption Police have cordoned off the area

The British Red Cross called it a "distressing incident" for those affected, and it had nine of its volunteers at the scene.

Daniel Collins, emergency response operations manager, said: "Some had been on their way home for a Valentine's Day dinner and had actually witnessed the explosion and seen the fire engines and helicopters overhead.

"There were a lot of people who were clearly in shock.

"Our job was to provide emotional support and get people something to eat and drink.

"Some were able to stay with friends and family for the night but we also supported a smaller group of around 15 people to settle into nearby accommodation provided by the local authority."

From the scene: Phil Mercer, BBC Oxford

People in the Osney area of Oxford woke up to a scene of devastation this morning

There is a pile of rubble where once there was a three-storey block of flats, and an open scar at the front of the building.

You can see an open door to the third floor neighbour's flat without any way to get to it.

Firefighters are also examining the burnt out remains of a boat that got caught up in the blast.

Image copyright Alexander Hammonds
Image caption An eyewitness said he believed the explosion was caused by gas canisters
Image caption A search is now taking place in the rubble of the building

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