A huge gas explosion destroyed multiple buildings and injured 34 people, with a witness telling how they saw people being "blown away, lifted off their feet".
Two people were seriously hurt in the blast, which left casualties under the rubble, in New Ferry, Merseyside on Saturday night.
The explosion was heard across the region including in Liverpool and reportedly as far away as North Wales, which is 70 miles away. Unconfirmed reports suggested the buildings could be a dance school, furniture shop and Chinese restaurant.
A spokesman for North West Ambulance Service said that 34 people had gone to hospital, two of whom are in a serious condition.
The Complete Works Dace Studio wrote on their Facebook page: "We are all safe... but we are devastated to say that the Complete Works Studios are no more!"
Resident Tessa Cooper, 34, said: "My friend's daughter says she saw people being blown away, lifted off their feet. The kids will usually hang out in that area.
"There were some guys who'd been in the pub that I spoke to, you should have seen their faces. They tried to help people.
"So many people rushed out to help. It's all their families, it's terrible. It makes you treasure family just that little bit more."
Shane Bryan, 34, grew up in New Ferry and was in the Cleveland Arms pub when the explosion happened.
He said: "At first I thought it was a shot from outside. Everyone rushed to help. I know there must be people that have died, but I hope they haven't.
"Afterwards it was very still, I found it very eerie. We're all in shock, and we're heartbroken. This community will pull together and rebuild. We are close anyway, but this makes us closer."
Fahmi Ali, 39, who works at a takeaway, said: "We were all here in the shop together, suddenly we heard a giant explosion and dust came down from the ceiling.
"We ran out to find out what was wrong and saw people screaming and running. It's usually a very quiet area. It was really terrible, I've never seen anything like this before."
Rail worker Lewis Hopkins, 22, lives just outside New Ferry and headed to the scene when he heard the explosion.
He said: "We heard a massive bang and the whole house shook. When we went outside the whole street was out and we could see a plume of black smoke.
"When I got there the whole building was just blown to pieces, the shops and houses nearby were completely smashed into pieces and it had taken out other buildings nearby. There was debris everywhere.
"I hope no one is seriously injured, but unfortunately I definitely got the impression that could be the case.
"There are houses which back onto where it happened. A lot of people live round there, and it's a popular dog-walking route too so people could have been walking their dogs at that time.
"Everyone was really shocked but everyone was brilliant. People made sure everything was safe and everyone was OK before the emergency services arrived.
"It is right in the town centre in the middle of the shopping area so it is going to affect a lot of people."
A National Grid spokesman said: "We were called at 9.26pm on Saturday 25 March to a report of an explosion in Boundary Road.
"Our engineers remain on site working with the emergency services to make the scene safe and to identify what caused the incident.
"The gas supply to the main property involved has been isolated. Our thoughts are with the injured and we wish them a prompt recovery.
A spokesman for Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service said: "Several two storey buildings over a 40 metre by 50 metre radius have collapsed as a result of an explosion caused by a suspected gas leak at the junction of Boundary Road and Bebbington Road in New Ferry, the Wirral.
"The buildings are believed to be a row of shops but there has been no confirmation of this yet."
Residents took to Twitter reporting hearing a huge explosion for miles around.
Vicky-Aspey tweeted: "Massive explosion here in Wirral. Hope all ok. Heard everywhere. Scary".
People are saying the explosion on the Wirral was the petrol station opposite the oval in Bebington— Luke Doran (@Luke__Efc) March 25, 2017
One resident said the area is covered in smoke and houses shook with the blast.
wirral explosion, Made the whole house shake... People out in the streets, Smoke at the end of the road! :O— John (@AgainstJohnny) March 25, 2017
Phil Edwards tweeted images of the area and said it happened near to a dance school.
Dave Almond said his house shook and he is several miles away from the scene.