A grandfather and his daughter-in-law were killed and four others were injured after a huge gas blast reduced a terraced house to rubble on Sunday evening, it emerged today.
The body of retired company director Leslie Rourke, 71, was discovered buried beneath the basement and groundfloor of the property shortly after midnight.
His daughter-in-law Jeanette Rourke, 40, also died in the explosion and her body was still being recovered yesterday afternoon.
Jeannette’s husband Nick, in his 40s, was rescued from the rubble and is fighting for his life in hospital.
A mother from a neighbouring property along with her four-month-old daughter and seven-year-old son were also rescued and taken to hospital.
Friends of Leslie Rourke paid tribute to a “wonderful, caring, gentle man”.
A friend, who knew him for several years, said yesterday: “Les was terrific and nothing was too big a challenge for him.
“He was heavily into charity and helping the more deprived areas around here get a better chance of employment through training.
“It is absolutely tragic that he has died in such an awful way. He was a wonderful, caring, gentle man who will be deeply missed.”
Mr Rourke’s son Nick, who was caught up in the explosion but was rescued, also had another son Robert.
Police said a controlled explosion would be carried out at 28 Wright Street, Newark, Notts., following the huge blast which ripped through the house at 5.11pm on Sunday.
The explosion, which is believed to have been sparked by a gas leak, destroyed the three-bedroom £83,000 terraced house along with half of the neighbouring property.
Hero resident Jeanette Dixon, 34, hauled Mrs Rourke’s husband Nick to safety after spotting his bloodied hand poking out of the rubble.
She said: “We were sat in our living room when we heard it.
“It was like a massive bomb went off like a sonic boom. I am ex-army so I knew straight away it was an explosion.
“We looked down the street and there was just smoke, thick black smoke, everywhere.
“I could just see people running, screaming.
“We ran down the street and as it cleared you could just see the house was just gone, it wasn’t there.
“You could hear screaming and shouting from everywhere. My partner saw a bloodied hand out of the rubble and pulled out a man.
“She sat with him for 45 minutes, holding him until the emergency services could take him away. He kept saying ‘where’s my dad, where’s Jeanette?’
“It was just an awful, awful sound, I can’t even find the right expression to describe it.
“Everyone just came together, I have never seen such bravery from civilians.”
Jeanette’s parter, Katie Graves, 27, added: “We saw a hand poking out of the rubble and pulled him out.
“Just as we got him out the flames erupted across the building, it was indescribable.
“Nick was passed to me by someone and I just sat there with him.
“When he was passed to me I honestly thought he was a black man, the dirt and dust on him was so thick.”
Resident Cormac Fleming smashed the window of a neighbouring property to reach a stricken Polish baby and a seven-year-old boy also caught in the blast.
The construction worker, was walking past the property at the time with his family, said: “We ran over and smashed the window with a brick.
“Next thing the mother handed me a four-month-old baby and then a seven-year-old boy. Then she came out. They were all covered head to foot in black soot.
“The main house was non-existent. The whole front of the house came out and a large proportion of the one next to it.
“I took the baby. I was just acting on impulse.”
More than 100 people were evacuated from their homes with many being put up at the nearby Grove Leisure Centre.
Murial Gaffney, 70, who lives on an adjacent street, said: “We were watching television when we heard a massive explosion. At first we thought it was our boiler in the loft.
“Our bungalow started shaking like there was an earthquake. I immediately rushed out into the street, and there were loads of people all standing outside.
“The sound was like a cannon had gone off. The house is only 200 yards from me and it had completely blown out. The whole thing was black and gutted.
“The one next to it was all twisted, and you could see the tiles had fallen off.
“The family from the house next door were sat in the street in shock.
“I saw a baby being carried out, it was still alive, but it was completely black from soot.”
The Polish woman and her two children were taken to the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham for treatment for smoke inhalation and have since been discharged.
Sergeant Bryn Coleman, from Nottinghamshire fire and rescue, said: “On arrival last night, the emergency services were met with a very dynamic situation, not only did we have the obvious signs of an explosion, but there was a serious developed fire.
“We were met with numerous casualties in the street and were also led to believe there were two casualties trapped in the building.
“Crews were then committed to attempt a search for any visible casualties, and at this point it was particularly challenging for the emergency services because we knew there was potentially an escape of gas still in the area and a risk of further explosion at that point.
“We have four casualties which were taken to hospital by the ambulance service suffering various injuries.
“In the early hours of this morning fire and rescue crews assisted by the urban search and rescue team from Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue Service located a male casualty buried between the basement and ground floor of the premises.
“We were successful in removing the deceased from the premises, a further search of the premises revealed a female casualty who remains in the premises at this time.
“We liaised with the local authority building inspectors and the decision was made in the early hours of this morning to suspend operations due to the casualty being certified as deceased.
“That search is now resuming, we are going to structurally remove the damaged structure in a hand operation to achieve our final overall objective to remove the final deceased person from the scene of operations.
“It is now a police lead investigation from this point in time.
“The local community put themselves in a dangerous situation to rescue others, you have to take your hat off to such actions.
“Their help was absolutely essential, I’m led to believe there was a family trapped in the adjoining premises and a member of the public assisted in the rescue of two children from that premises prior to the emergency services arrival.
“Demolition is being undertaken at this moment in time, we have specialist demolition contractors involved in removing the dangerous structure which is also being co-ordinated by the fire and rescue services and indeed the police.
Superintendent Mike Manley, from Nottinghamshire Police, added:
“Sadly we are not looking at recovering any people alive from this situation, there is just one person, one body we are trying to recover, so we must make sure that that takes place in a way that doesn’t endanger any of the staff.
“We have one person who has been taken from the premises dead, we have another person who is in the premises dead, there are four other people who were taken from the neighbouring address to hospital and they are safe and well now and someone who was taken from the main address who is still in hospital.
“The early figure for people evacuate is 100, but what we have found is people have found shelter with other addresses.
“We need to work through the identification processes at this stage.
“There is an additional person from the main address who is still in hospital so we are waiting for an update on that.
“We are unable to speculate on cause at this moment in time.”
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