Leicester explosion death toll rises to five as rescue effort suspended

Five people have died following an explosion at a building in Leicester, police said as a search for more casualties was suspended.

Five other people were taken to hospital, one in a critical condition, Leicestershire Police said.

Officers believe there may still be people unaccounted for but emergency crews have had to temporarily halt a search and rescue operation at the site on Hinckley Road because of the "structural integrity" of a neighbouring building.

Matt Cane, Group Manager from Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service, said: "There are still pockets of fire in the basement area of the building.

"We have a significant number of specialist search and rescue teams who are supported by two search dogs.

"It may be some days yet before we will be able to establish the probable cause of the explosion."

Gas network Cadent said the supply had been isolated and establishing the cause of the fire would be a matter for emergency services.

Superintendent Shane O'Neill, of Leicestershire Police, said: "There are now five confirmed fatalities and a number of people still undergoing treatment in hospital.

"The building consisted of a shop premises on the ground level and a two-storey flat above it.

"We believe there may be people who have not yet been accounted for and rescue efforts continue in order to locate any further casualties.

"Although the cause of the explosion is not yet known, there is no evidence that this is linked to terrorism."

He urged anyone who knows someone who is missing to contact police, adding: "It is still a search and rescue operation. It is important we try and find as many people as possible."

Emergency services responded to reports of the blast from concerned residents at about 7pm and police declared a major incident.

Firefighters worked through the night to dig through rubble and tackle the explosion's subsequent blaze, and teams are expected to remain at the scene throughout the day.

Video taken at the scene on Sunday night showed flames billowing into the night sky as the fire engulfed what is believed to be a convenience store.

One clip appeared to show emergency services rushing to help someone close to flames that were visible from a distance.

POLICE Explosion
(PA Graphics)

The building appears to have stood next to a shop called TJ's Takeaway.

Speaking to Sky News, Kat Pattinson, who lives on the same road as the fire, told how her "whole house shook" when the blast happened.

She added: "We checked on our children first and foremost and then we went outside.

"There is just an awful lot of smoke here at the moment and the whole area is cordoned off."

She added that the shop on fire is usually open until about 9pm on a Sunday, and has a flat above it.

Leicestershire Fire and Rescue sent six fire engines to the scene, and said the property had suffered a "pancake collapse".

Multi agency Tactical and Strategic Coordination Groups are taking place tonight to make sure the Hinckley Rd explosion is fully resourced and people directly affected are looked after. Fire crews continue to dig through rubble and fight fire, a tremendous effort.

-- Andrew Brodie (@LFRSABrodie) February 26, 2018

Mr Crane said there was the potential for further collapse, and buildings on either side have sustained damage, he said.

Emergency personnel continue to work at the scene on Hinckley Road in Leicester (Joe Giddens/PA)
Emergency personnel continue to work at the scene on Hinckley Road in Leicester (Joe Giddens/PA)

Witness Tahir Khan said: "I was driving past when it happened.

"Loads of people were gathered and there was gas and flames coming out of the building.

"I looked on the road and half the building was on the road. Literally the whole of the side of the building had been blown out.

"I couldn't believe it, it was like a Hollywood movie."

BBC journalist John Alexander said: "I live about 80 yards away from where it happened.

"I felt a tremor, what felt like an earthquake shock and I heard a very low boom that sounded like a very, very fast release of pressure.

"I thought my house was going to fall down on top of me and all my neighbours have said the same thing.

Leicester explosion
Emergency personnel load a small truck with debris (Aaron Chown/PA)

"I saw one guy get pulled out and he'll be very lucky if he wasn't killed."

Hinckley Road remains closed in both directions from its junction with Bolton Road to its junction with Woodville Road.

A spokesman said Cadent "assisted the emergency services last night, by isolating the gas supply" to the property on Hinckley Road and adjoining properties.

He added: "Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the four people who have died, as well as those who have been injured."

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