LEICESTER: At least four people were killed and four more injured when a blast destroyed a convenience store and a home in the central English city of Leicester on Sunday, British police said.
“There are four confirmed fatalities at this stage and a number of people still undergoing treatment in hospital,” Leicestershire Police Superintendent Shane O’Neill said. “We believe there may be people who have not yet been accounted for and rescue efforts continue in order to locate any further casualties,” O’Neill said.
The incident is believed to have taken place at roughly 7:03 pm at a corner shop amid reports of a huge blast rocking the surrounding area.
Fire engines, police and ambulance crews are all working together in what emergency service officials have branded a “search and rescue” operation.
Meanwhile, heroic locals clambered through the debris, attempting to lift the fissured remains of the building to rescue anyone who may have been caught up in the catastrophic event.
Locals have claimed the shop will have been open at the time of the incident – but it is unclear how many people were caught up in the explosion.
In a statement, the Leicester police force said: “Emergency services are dealing with a fire in Hinckley Rd, Leicester.
“Incident will be the subject of a joint investigation with the fire service.
“Public asked not to speculate but at this stage, there is no indication this is terrorist related.”
The East Midlands Ambulance Service has confirmed six people have been taken to hospital with the majority taken to Leicester Royal Infirmary.
A Leicester Hospitals spokesman said: “We can confirm that four patients from the scene have been taken to Leicester Royal Infirmary in a critical condition”.
Two of those rushed to the hospital are in a critical condition.
The explosion appears to have decimated the building where the raging inferno began, with footage from the scene showing flames towering above nearby houses.
One witness told the Mirror: “It’s blown the shop across both sides of lanes and there is carnage everywhere.
“It rattled doors and windows here.”
The main-road facing area of the residential district is mostly made up of corner shops and takeaways – with homes on the upper floors.
Hinckley Road has been closed as a result of the blast between the junctions of Mostyn Street and Carlisle Street.
While officers are still investigating, there is reportedly not believed to have been any indication the incident was terror-related.
Liz Kendall, the Labour MP for Leicester West, described the explosion as “terrible news”.
She added: “I am in touch with police as situation develops, thoughts and prayers with all those affected and with our amazing emergency services.”
Kat Pattison, a nearby resident, claimed her whole house shook as the blast ripped through the shop.
Speaking to the Guardian, she said: “There was a huge bang and the whole house shook.
“If there had been no bang, I would have thought it was an earthquake. I couldn’t believe it.
“It looks like the fire is burning under control but there’s still a lot of smoke.
“The shop would have still been open so it’s awful.
“I will be really surprised if anyone has come out of it alive and people could have also been hurt at the bus stop.”
A Leicestershire Fire and Rescue spokeswoman said six fire engines had been requested and that the incident is currently being treated as a search and rescue operation.
She said: “This is a search and rescue at the moment. It is unknown if people are injured or trapped.”
She added that the property was a two-floor building with a loft conversion that had suffered a “pancake collapse”.
A pancake collapse refers to an incident where an element of the structure of a building gives way, forcing all surrounding parts of the building to collapse in on itself.
Speaking to Sky News, Local journalist Laura Scigliano said: “The smoke is so thick you can feel it in your throat.
“I can’t see from where I’m standing any flames now – it’s just thick smoke and the Fire Service are probably dealing with it.
“I spoke to one lady who heard a massive bang.
“One man said he thought it sounded like a bomb.
“It looks like extensive damage…the building just looks like it completely collapsed.”
A large crowd of people has amassed near the area, shocked by the carnage of the towering blaze.
One witness told the Leicester Mercury: “The flames were absolutely huge. I’ll be amazed if someone hasn’t been killed or seriously injured.”