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Families flee homes after gas explosion fear in East End

PUBLISHED: 11:54 16 September 2008 | UPDATED: 13:37 05 October 2010

FAMILIES have been getting back into their homes this morning after a night in emergency shelter accommodation following a cylinder blaze in East London. More than 200 people including office and shop workers as well as families with children had to be evacuated yesterday (Monday) when an oxy-acetylene gas cylinder caught light at Whitechapel

Mike Brooke

FAMILIES have been getting back into their homes this morning after a night in emergency shelter accommodation following a cylinder blaze in East London.

More than 200 people including office and shop workers as well as families with children had to be evacuated yesterday (Monday) when an oxy-acetylene gas cylinder caught light.

Three workmen fled to safety from the four-storey building in Sly Street, off the main Commercial Road in Whitechapel, which was being converted into flats.

Fire crews immediately evacuated families and office and shop staff along the main road as they battled to control the blaze.

Police threw up a cordon around entire area as fears grew of the fire spreading.

There was a danger of explosion had the flames reached other cylinders stored on the site.

“The whole building could have been destroyed if the fire had reached the other cylinders,” explained fire crew manager Lee Jacques.

“There were five more cylinders in building, but we managed to contain the fire and averted the danger.”

Meanwhile, some families from the Bigland housing estate had to stay with relatives or in emergency shelter after police threw up a 200-yard cordon around the blaze.

“A lot of families were upset in the confusion and didn’t know why they had to leave their homes,” added crew manager Jacques.

“We began evacuation straight away, but many were surprised, a few even reluctant to leave till they realised the danger.”

The A13 Commercial Road had to be closed for four hours while the blaze was being tackled, which affected the new Whitechapel High Street two-way traffic system introduced that morning.

Traffic bosses from Transport for London were puzzled at first why there were so few vehicles entering the new scheme linking Whitechapel and Aldgate replacing the one-way system which had been in place for the past 40 years.

They discovered police had closed the A13 leading into Whitechapel High Street. The cordon was later reduced to 100 yards as the danger subsided and the A13 was reopened at 2pm.

Fire crews were still at the scene this morning keeping the cylinders cool for 24 hours before they could be moved.

The basement of the four-storey building was also flooded and was being pumped out today. No-one was injured and all the workers on the building site got away in time.

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