'Amazing escape' from Lowestoft gas leak

AN 'amazing escape!'That was the reaction this week of onlookers after a car careered through a garden wall and hit a gas main outside a house on one of the major routes into Lowestoft.

AN 'amazing escape!'

That was the reaction this week of onlookers after a car careered through a garden wall and hit a gas main outside a house on one of the major routes into Lowestoft.

More than 30 people had to be evacuated from their homes in Carlton Colville, others were treated nearby after being overcome from the effects of a strong smell of gas and there were traffic delays after a five-mile stretch of the A146 was closed for two-and-a-half hours during the drama on Wednesday.

And yesterday, as they recovered at their home in Lowestoft, an elderly couple relived the traumatic incident.

Norman Lingwood, 82, and his wife Joyce were returning home in their Fiat people carrier after shopping in Beccles when a collision happened at the Chapel Road junction with Beccles Road.

Mrs Lingwood, 81, said: 'It was upsetting to say the least. It all happened so quickly. A car hit us and we went through a brick wall and then the gas main. We managed to get out of the car and everyone had to be evacuated - it was very, very frightening.'

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Onlookers described how the drama unfolded.

One witness said: 'The Lingwood's car approached the roundabout, and seemed to assume that a vehicle on the roundabout was going straight on and so they pulled out. The car didn't go straight on, so they found themselves in the path of the on-coming vehicle. The car went through a wall, severing a gas main.'

The couple's car - with its engine running - was then left precariously perched on top of the ruptured gas main as gas started.

Police, firefighters and the National Grid were all called to the scene at about 10.50am and, within about half an hour, people had been evacuated from the houses near the leak and taken to safety at the Uplands Community Centre, on Ashburnham Way, and to the Crown pub. The Lingwood's were taken into the pub, before they were driven home by a kindhearted local.

'The people were very, very good to us and it was very good of them to look after us,' Mrs Lingwood said. 'We didn't have to go to hospital as we weren't too badly hurt - we were just shocked as it was very traumatic.'

Residents were unable to leave their homes by car amid fears that the ignition would set off an explosion, and eyewitness Tony Story said: 'There was a very strong smell of escaping gas after the collision and I think they all had an amazing escape, considering they were sitting on a ruptured gas main with an engine running on a car.'

The A146, which runs from Norwich to Lowestoft past Beccles, was closed from the Flying Dutchman pub in Oulton Broad to the Three Horseshoes roundabout near Worlingham.

Suffolk fire service group manager John Tiffen said: 'Initially our priority was to get everyone out of the area at risk so we evacuated houses with 100m downwind. However the wind then changed direction, so we put a 100m cordon in place all around the leak. We used our jets to create fire curtains which stopped the build up of the gas and helped to dissipate it through the vapour,' he added.

Traffic queued through Oulton Broad as vehicles were diverted through the centre of town and over the bascule bridge to get to the A12, and some normal journeys to Beccles had taken three hours.

Residents were allowed to return to their homes as the road was reopened just after 1.30pm. A few people who felt ill from the effects of the gas were treated by paramedics at The Crown pub, but no one was injured.