A family-of-four lived in the flat above the shop that exploded in Leicester on Sunday night, according to a worker at a nearby business.
Five people are confirmed to have died in the explosion, with five more people in hospital, one in a critical condition, while police also believe there may still be people unaccounted.
Nicola Bishop, 32, who runs Sunshine Studios a few doors down from the blast site, said she spoke to the owner of the building recently, who told her about the family recently who had moved into the two-bedroom flat above the shop.
She said: ‘I left my studios an hour before the explosion. I was at home when I heard about it from some customers asking if I was all right.
‘I don’t really use the shop which was destroyed but I have chatted to the owner who said he had recently let out the flat above to a family of four.
‘It looks like they could be the victims. It’s really shocking.
‘Looking at videos of the explosion which are on social media it looks like the flames were as a result of a gas leak but I didn’t smell anything when I left work.
‘I’m so sorry for the family.’
Leicester City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby confirmed one of the victims was a ‘young lad’.
He said: ‘I am deeply shocked by this tragic incident, which has devastated part of a bustling city community…
‘The area is still closed off and will be for some considerable time. We have traffic diversions in place and these will remain for the foreseeable future.
‘We are still waiting to hear what caused this terrible incident, but it looks likely it was a gas explosion.
‘We remain in close contact with the police and fire service and await their update on this.
‘Our thoughts and sympathies are with all of those affected. The city council will continue to do everything it can to support them and the local community to recover from this devastating event.’
Emergency crews have had to temporarily halt a search and rescue operation at the site on Hinckley Road because of the “structural integrity” of a neighbouring building.
Matt Cane, Group Manager from Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service, said: ‘There are still pockets of fire in the basement area of the building.
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‘We have a significant number of specialist search and rescue teams who are supported by two search dogs.
‘It may be some days yet before we will be able to establish the probable cause of the explosion.’
Gas network Cadent said the supply had been isolated and establishing the cause of the fire would be a matter for emergency services.
Emergency services responded to reports of the blast from concerned residents at about 7pm.
Thanks for all your good wishes. Fire crews continue to search the debris pile and fight fire. Conditions are arduous on a bitterly cold night but their efforts continue unabated alongside @EMASNHSTrust and @leicspolice
— Andrew Brodie (@LFRSABrodie) February 25, 2018
Firefighters worked through the night to dig through rubble and tackle the explosion’s subsequent blaze.
The assistant chief fire officer for Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service praised the ‘tremendous effort’ of crews as they continue to dig through rubble.
Residents living in the streets off Hinckley Road have told how they rushed to help those caught up in the massive blast, including a boy who was heard crying in the rubble.
Local people said the “enormous” explosion shook properties up to 500 metres away and left many people inside houses in neighbouring streets in a state of shock.
One witness described how a group of men who ran to the scene lifted a girder off an adult casualty and turned to help a boy, who then managed to get to his feet.
Tony Hartley, who lives around 50 yards away from the blast site, said: ‘Me and a friend lifted up a steel girder with about five other blokes and removed a bloke from underneath it.
‘We then turned round, saw rubble and heard a little boy crying.
‘There was me and another bloke sifting through the rubble and we managed to pull the boy out.
‘I said to him, ‘Is there anybody else in there?’ and he said, “My friend’s a metre back inside the building” and that’s when the emergency services turned up.’
Mr Hartley, 33, said the boy, thought to be aged between 10 and 13, was able to walk after being freed.
Local people said the shopkeeper whose building was destroyed had traded there for several years, and recently began to sell eastern European goods.
Andrew Brodie also said on Twitter that work was continuing to ensure those directly affected by the incident were being looked after.
He had earlier described conditions for firefighters as ‘arduous’ on a ‘bitterly cold night’.
Video taken at the scene on Sunday night showed flames billowing into the night sky as the fire engulfed what is believed to be a convenience store.
One clip appeared to show emergency services rushing to help someone close to flames that were visible from a distance.
The building appears to have stood next to a shop called TJ’s Takeaway.
Speaking to Sky News, Kat Pattinson, who lives on the same road as the fire, told how her ‘whole house shook’ when the blast happened.
She added: ‘We checked on our children first and foremost and then we went outside.
‘There is just an awful lot of smoke here at the moment and the whole area is cordoned off.’
She added that the shop on fire is usually open until about 9pm on a Sunday, and has a flat above it.
Leicestershire Fire and Rescue sent six fire engines to the scene, and said the property had suffered a ‘pancake collapse’.
Group manager Matt Crane, said firefighters would be on the site for “a number of days” and it was “still too early to say” what caused the explosion.
Mr Crane said there was the potential for further collapse, and buildings on either side have sustained damage.
He added: ‘On arrival there was a significant fire and significant building collapse, reports of numerous people possibly trapped within the building so crews have worked throughout the night to extinguish the fire.
‘We now have got specialist search and rescue teams supported by search dogs on scene. We are trying to locate any further casualties that may be in the building. We still think this is a rescue phase of the operation.
‘We are now working to get into different areas of the building using shoring techniques to see if we can locate anybody that may be alive in the building.’
Witness Tahir Khan said: ‘I was driving past when it happened. Loads of people were gathered and there was gas and flames coming out of the building.
‘I looked on the road and half the building was on the road. Literally the whole of the side of the building had been blown out.
‘I couldn’t believe it, it was like a Hollywood movie.’
BBC journalist John Alexander said: ‘I live about 80 yards away from where it happened.
‘I felt a tremor, what felt like an earthquake shock and I heard a very low boom that sounded like a very, very fast release of pressure.
‘I thought my house was going to fall down on top of me and all my neighbours have said the same thing.
‘I saw one guy get pulled out and he’ll be very lucky if he wasn’t killed.’
Hinckley Road remains closed in both directions from its junction with Bolton Road to its junction with Woodville Road.
An investigation will take place to establish the cause of the blaze.