Pregnant woman taken to hospital after explosion reduces house to rubble
THIS was all that was left of a house destroyed in a huge explosion.
Families had to be evacuated when the blast reduced the end of terrace home in Argyle Street, Shelton, to a pile of rubble.
A pregnant woman, who was in a neighbouring house at the time, was taken to the University Hospital of North Staffordshire. And two other people were treated at the scene for minor injuries.
Part of the road, covering about 20 to 30 homes, was cordoned off while search and rescue dogs scoured the debris for half an hour looking for any signs of trapped casualties.
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Police have now launched an investigation into what caused the blast shortly before 3pm yesterday.
National Grid had been called out to the street last Saturday but checks along its pipes did not find any leaks.
Workmen returned to the road on Monday to follow-up the concerns but again discovered no leaks.
Derek Callear, aged 65, of Argyle Street, said: "I was walking along when I saw the whole house go up in the air, it literally went up and out. There was a cloud of smoke and rubble flying out and a bloke was lying on the ground.
"Two people were sitting in the white van parked directly outside the house, they are lucky to be alive.
"People have been reporting the smell of gas in this street for about a week.
"I contacted National Grid and I know of at least three others who did the same."
Around nine households had to be evacuated and the electricity supply had to be cut off for several hours.
Marie Ashton, aged 72, of Argyle Street, said: "I just heard a tremendous noise. At first I thought my washing machine had blown up but then I went outside and I saw what I thought was smoke but it was dust. We haven't been told what's happening but there's lots or rumours."
Fire crews from Hanley and Longton, the Urban Search and Rescue Unit from Greater Manchester and a team from West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service attended the incident.
Initially work was halted because the building was so unstable and it was not safe to proceed. About three hours after the explosion, two sniffer dogs searched the scene but did not discover any casualties.
Detective Inspector Steve Morrey, of Staffordshire Police, said: "This type of incident is very rare. Detectives are currently investigating circumstances leading to the explosion. Early indications suggest two people suffered minor injuries."
Group manager Brian Griffiths, from Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: "Initially we did not have confirmation whether there was anybody in the house so we had to err on the side of caution and request support from the search dogs to make sure there was nobody trapped. It's about balancing the risk to firefighters. It's a calculated decision."
A National Grid spokesman said: "It was reported to us that there was a smell of gas in Argyle Street, on May 19. Our engineers went to check for signs of a gas escape but didn't find anything. We went back on Monday and and again didn't find any signs of a gas escape.
"We were asked to attend the incident yesterday. We are now helping them establish the cause of the explosion."
Anyone with information can call police on 101, quoting incident number 415 of May 22.