'It all went black and I thought we would die'
TWO brothers have told how they feared for their lives after the van they were sitting in was pelted with debris from a house wrecked by a gas blast.
Bricks rained down on their delivery vehicle, smashing the windscreen and filling the inside of the cab with building dust.
As the roof of the van started to cave in, Azmat Iqbal and his brother Amjad scrambled to get out, eventually collapsing on the pavement outside.
Now the pair are struggling to overcome their traumatic experience.
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Emergency services were called to Argyle Street in Shelton at about 3pm on Tuesday after a terrace property collapsed in the explosion.
Azmat and Amjad, who run a business delivering poultry to wholesalers, were sitting outside the property because Azmat, who lives three doors away, had forgotten his house keys.
Azmat, aged 33, said: "We were just talking between ourselves and all of a sudden we heard a huge bang and bricks came smashing into the van.
"The force of the explosion shot the bricks towards us. It all went black with dust and I thought we were going to die."
Amjad, aged 32, said: "We were trapped in there.
"We didn't know what was happening, we thought it was an earthquake.
"The roof was caving in with the weight of the bricks and the windscreen had shattered."
The brothers called to each other in the dark as they tried to break free.
Azmat said: "I did not know if my brother was hurt so I managed to open the door and pull him out."
Family members ran from their homes in Shelton to find out if they were OK as news of the blast spread.
Amjad, who lives in Havelock Place, suffered cuts to his elbow and pain to his arm, neck and back.
Azmat has been off work with severe back pain and lack of sleep.
They were both treated by ambulance service staff.
Father-of-three Azmat said: "Luckily we were in the van because we would never have survived on foot.
"Since the blast I can't sleep and we have become paranoid.
"With that build up of gas it is like a bomb going off."
The Sentinel revealed last week how residents had contacted the National Grid before the blast to report a strong smell of gas coming from the empty house.
The firm visited the street on several occasions but said no leaks were found from outside pipes.
However, the property was slowly filling with gas. It is thought an electrical fault triggered the blast.
Azmat is still unable to return to his house.
He said: "I cannot believe no-one checked this house.
"Everybody in the street could smell gas. We nearly lost our lives and want some answers."
Azmat's wife Shazia Iqbal, aged 34, said: "I was so shocked and crying because at first we didn't know which house exploded."
The men's father Mohammed Iqbal, aged 71, from Havelock Place, Shelton, said: "It was a massive panic and all I remember is running towards the street.
"We saw the van and were so scared for their safety."
The former councillor added: "If they had not been in the van, and were instead walking past, things could have been very different."
Nine homes were evacuated following the blast.