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Worshippers forced to flee after explosion at Hare Krishna temple

Up to 60 worshippers fled a Hare Krishna temple in Leicester yesterday moments before the building was partially destroyed in an explosion.

They were led to safety by the president of the temple and his wife during the close of celebrations for Janmastami – a two-day holiday marking the birth of Lord Krishna. Watch manager Bill Smith of Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service said the explosion had been caused by a leaking valve from a gas cylinder which had been used to cook food for the followers. "He ran out of the kitchen, got everyone out of the building, and seconds later there was a large explosion," said Mr Smith.

Four people were treated for minor injuries at the scene of the blast. President Pradium Nadas said afterwards: "The thing that people need to know is that we are safe. The building is damaged and that is a devastating thing. It is sacred for us and our lord resides there."

The Iskcon temple, in a suburban house in Thoresby Street in the east of the city, is the focus for a large and close-knit Krishna community in the East Midlands. Hundreds of worshippers, including many children, had visited the centre over the previous 48 hours as part of the celebrations, which have been going on across the world. A marquee was still up outside the red brick house, a third of which is believed to be destroyed.

Police and firefighters had feared that some worshippers were stuck in the rubble of the building after local residents reported seeing flames billowing from the house and heard people screaming. Some said they feared the explosion was a bomb.

Officers deployed a helicopter with thermal imaging cameras to help locate any victims, and a search dog was also sent in to find any possible survivors.

Dillon Kidger, who works for a roofing company in the same road as the temple, said he rushed outside after hearing a large explosion. "It was actually that loud that the building shook. I heard banging noises and people screaming, there was a big fire and the building was gone in about five to 10 minutes," he said.