Vintage: The Clarkston explosion in 1971 Scotland
Forty-five-years ago on 21 October 1971, at precisely 2.52pm, a huge gas explosion decimated the centre of Clarkston in East Renfrewshire, Scotland, killing 22 people and leaving over 100 others seriously injured. The blast, said to be the equivalent of a 1 000-lb bomb, destroyed the Clarkston Toll shopping centre, sending the rooftop car park, complete with 20 vehicles, crashing into the street and the shops below. A passing bus took the full force of the explosion. Two women had just got off the bus and both were killed instantly, one of them was Maureen Hume, Scotland’s reigning badminton champion.
The victims included many female shop staff and housewives on shopping trips. If it hadn’t had been such a cold, wet and windy day, the shops would have been busier and the death toll much higher.
Locals and shop owners had been complaining about a strong smell of gas in the area for three days prior to what would become known as the Clarkston Disaster, but engineers had been unable to trace the source of the leak, which had led to a large build-up of gas in the shops’ basements.
What actually sparked the explosion is still not known.
What is known is that the ordinary people of Clarkston, passers-by, our emergency services and off-duty doctors and nurses rose to the occasion, climbing amongst the still smoking rubble and twisted metal to rescue and recover victims.
In the days before mobiles, the shout went out on television, on radio, and by landline: ‘We need help!” More than 100 police officers and 20 fire-brigade units and every available ambulance in Glasgow was called to the scene, with rescuers toiling through the night and the whole of the next day.
The casualties were taken to the Victoria Infirmary and Hairmyres Hospital, where every available doctor and nurse was called in for duty, helped by colleagues from as far afield as Dumbarton and Paisley. The public did their bit too, turning out in force to donate blood for the victims.
The cause of the Clarkston disaster was never found. The official inquiry lasted just 19 days and laid the blame on no-one.
Today, a simple plaque at the rebuilt parade of shops remembers the 22 dead and the bravery of all the rescuers.
Source: Lost Glasgow
Pictures: Daily Record, Newsquest Herald and Times, Daily Express, The Scotsman