HUNDREDS of people were evacuated from streets, homes and businesses amid fears of a huge gas explosion in Liverpool city centre.
Police cordoned off roads within a 200m radius of the former Lewis’s department store after emergency services received reports of a suspected gas leak around 11.30am yesterday.
Four fire crews attended and firefighters helped police evacuate premises.
The strict safety cordon caused severe knock-on effects to public transport and the city centre came to a standstill.
Bus services were subject to delay and diversion while trains were prevented from stopping or passing through Liverpool Central station.
Around 15 Merseyrail staff stood outside Central station warding off frustrated commuters who couldn’t get into the station.
At one point, Wirral Line services were unable to use the underground loop line and were stopping and starting at James Street station.
On the Northern Line, Southport, Kirkby, and Ormskirk services were starting and finishing at Moorfields, while services from Kirkby to the city centre stopped at Sandhills.
A huge part of the city centre was closed, including parts of Elliot Street, Ranelagh Street, Lime Street and Copperas Hill forcing shops to shut and traffic to be diverted.
Drivers and pedestrians were advised to avoid the area completely.
It is believed around 50 shops and businesses had to close their doors because of safety fears, among them such well-known names as Boots on Great Charlotte Street and McDonald’s, on Ranelagh Street, along with all the shops at the Liverpool Central concourse.
At Clayton Square shopping centre Clayton News, Ladbrokes and Discount UK were all closed.
Also affected was the NHS walk-in centre on Great Charlotte Street, with people advised to attend an alternative facility in Old Swan.
Police ventured into the exclusion zone to clear homes.