Dad recalls 'help me' pleas before 'badly burnt' neighbour pulled from blast wreckage in Park End

One of the first people at the scene of a huge blast in Middlesbrough has told how he fought back the tears looking at the ‘badly burnt’ man who was pulled from the wreckage.

Neighbour Oluwafemi Tope was one of the first people at the scene in the immediate aftermath of the explosion on Kirkland Walk, near Frampton Green, in Park End, which has left a 57-year-old man in hospital with "serious burn injuries". He heard his neighbour shout 'help me, help me' and directed search efforts before the injured man was pulled from the remains of the semi-detached home.

The dad-of-three told Teesside Live how he fought back the tears after witnessing - what he could only describe as 'scenes from a movie' - outside of his rented home in Middlesbrough. The 42-year-old said his semi-detached home "shook" after what he thought was a "bomb explosion" or a “serious tremor”.

After running downstairs to check on his elderly neighbour, the destruction unfolded before his eyes. Speaking less than 24 hours after the "crazy" explosion, he recalled what happened and said he is only now "settling down from the trauma".

Oluwafemi, who was working from home at the time of the blast, said: "I heard a bomb explosion, I thought it was my house collapsing from the ground up or was it an accident. I thought there was construction work going on somewhere.

“I peeped from my window and heard ‘help me, help me’ - a faint [voice]. My initial thought was my immediate next door neighbour, I rushed downstairs to see her as she is an elderly woman. When I came out I saw a fire on the house. I saw people coming out already. I saw some of the construction guys [at the scene of the explosion].

“Everyone was just looking bewildered, everyone was just taken back by the incident. I told them I heard ‘help me, help me’ so there might be someone inside. They were shouting ‘is anyone inside, is anyone inside’. I told them there must be someone in there. I definitely heard someone shouting’.

“Three guys moved closer but we were all afraid because if it was a gas explosion there could be another explosion. Again we don’t want to risk just leaving someone in there. We moved closer and one of the three guys was shouting ‘is anyone in there?’ Then he mumbled something so we knew someone was inside. The guy went in further and just helped him up.

“Luckily he wasn't deep in the rubble, he was quite close. I think the impact of the explosion almost threw him out of the house. The bricks from the house were all over the field - it was a very serious impact."

The dad then recalled how other neighbours helped before the huge 999 response. "I believe he suffered a high degree of burns on his face, his hands, his neck," he added. "I think he was wearing a jacket - the jacket was already burnt - but luckily he had another layer underneath.

“We asked some of the ladies from across the road to help us with wet towels so they were put on his head. While we were doing that a lot of other people rang the ambulance, police, and fire.”

The dad described the emergency service response as “pretty fast”, along with people from across the estate coming from their homes with first aid kits, as well as a James Cook University Hospital worker, who is believed to be a nurse, who joined in efforts to help the injured man. Oluwafemi described the scenes, including the man’s injuries, before he was given first aid on the grassed area before he was transported into an ambulance then onto Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary.

Cleveland Police, the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS), Cleveland Fire Brigade and the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) were all called to the scene on Tuesday and remained whilst investigations were carried out. Twelve homes were evacuated, including Oluwafemi's property, as the Kirkland Walk property has been completely destroyed with partial structures now remaining.

“It was just one second, it was just a boom,” he said. “I’ve never experienced an earthquake but I expect that is what it would be like.” He added that his family was allowed back into their home on Tuesday evening once investigations had been carried out. However, his next door neighbour has not been allowed back in her home due to the damage.

“I couldn’t imagine the trauma they have,” he added, speaking about the neighbours who are directly next to the wreckage.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with him," Oluwafemi said. "The degree of the burns was bad. He was terribly burnt. I’ve seen stuff like that in movies. I’ve seen people who have been burnt in hospitals, when they have been bandaged, but not seen it physically.

'I struggled to hold back tears'

"It was scary. I struggled to hold back tears. If I was a family member I couldn’t stand to see that. I sincerely hope that he recovers.”

He added: ”It was crazy. I’m just settling down now from the trauma myself. I wasn’t expecting that. I watch it in movies and when you hear bomb sounds, I’ve never experienced anything close to that. It shook that was why I thought it was my house collapsing. The house practically shook."

The dad also spoke of his relief that his children were at school when the blast happened at 12.40pm. He explained: "I’m happy the explosion didn’t happen after school hours because my children, and other children, ride bicycles around after school. When you look at the impact of the bricks, the bricks were shattered all over the field and into the road. Who knows if it was after school and children were playing it might be fatal to be honest because of the impact.”

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