The death of a two-year-old toddler is being treated as suspicious after a huge gas explosion ripped through a street in Shaw, Oldham.
Jamie Heaton, 2, died in the blast on Buckley Street at around 11.15am yesterday – around 30 minutes after a gas escape was reported to the National Grid.
A 27-year-old man was taken to Wythenshawe Hospital with 80% burns and police are aware of a domestic incident which took place on the street the night before.
Superintendent Neil Evans said: "First and foremost, our thoughts are with the family of this young child who has tragically died.
“His loved ones are absolutely distraught and we will provide them with whatever support we can at what is clearly a very difficult and upsetting time.”
He added: “We are also aware of some rumours within the local community about a potential domestic disturbance in the area last night.
“What I can categorically say is that if that is the case, the police were not called. However, if anyone has any information about this, particularly if they think it might be relevant to what happened yesterday, I would urge them to get in touch.”
Search and rescue teams were searching for a man thought to be missing but he was found away from the rubble and officers believe no one else is trapped.
Hundreds of families from the surrounding houses were evacuated and took refuge in a nearby school and Asda superstore.
Jean Stretton, Cabinet member for Oldham Council, said: “It’s absolutetly tragic. A huge cordon is in place as search and rescue crews continue to search for the missing person.
“It’s a sad day when a child dies and hundreds of people are being evacuated from nearby homes.”
Yesterday, Mark Alcock, Councillor for Shaw, said: “It’s utter carnage at the scene. The emergency services are absolutely fantastic but obviously the focus is to ensure there are no more fatalities.
“We are trying to get families safely evacuated and we’re working with services across the North West to find the missing person.”
Five houses were destroyed – two completely flattened – and more than 30 firefighters, emergency crew members and search and rescuers were on scene yesterday.
Superintendent Evans added: “This incident has shocked the community of Shaw and I want to reassure them that all emergency services are committed to helping those whose homes are damaged in whatever way we can and to get all others who have been evacuated back home as soon as possible.
“When incidents such as this happen communities really pull together and this is the case in Shaw. All residents are rallying around one another and I know they will continue to support each other and the emergency services over the coming hours and days.
“Men and women from all emergency services have taken great risks today and on behalf of GMP I would like to thank them all for their efforts.”
Anyone with any information can call police on 0161 856 8959, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.