Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Explosion chaos in Bournemouth town centre

The pensioner and student-attracting seaside resort Bournemouth was rocked by an enormous explosion at around 15:45pm this afternoon, inflaming fears of a terror attack on the iconic Bournemouth Tourist Office on Westover Road. Eyewitnesses in the Portman House building report a total loss of power for at least 1.8 seconds, before all eyes were drawn irresistibly across the 6th floor and out to sea - where, in between the eyes and the sea, a charcoal black plume of smoke had risen quite suddenly around 100 feet into the air, towering above the rest of the town centre skyline.

The cloud of black smoke dissolved as quickly as it had appeared, replaced by wispy white funnel that was soon barely discernible in the fading grey afternoon light. Further attacks - sorry, burnt out fuse boxes - were not reported, though the town and indeed the entire nation will sleep uneasily tonight while fierce rumours abound that Al-Queda, Muslims, Iran, the US and the Irish are behind this reign of fear.

The centre of Bournemouth was brought to a standstill as the thick smoke engulfed the surrounding area and turned a Wednesday afternoon into night, lit up only by the raging force of an 11,000 volt fireball that terrorised helpess shoppers and countless pigeons for over 4 hours.

What really happened is this: an 11,000 volt electricity sub-station did actually explode, in one burst of flame and puff of smoke, and a tree caught fire to render itself the only casualty of the drama. In typically hackneyed fashion, the Daily Echo website commented unhelpfully on the 'knockout' blow which has left parts of Bournemouth, including surrounding shops and the stream running through the nearby gardens, without power. Rumour has it the tree was unwisely lighting up a cigarette while leaning over the electricity station, though official sources have refused to confirm whether this was an attempt at suicide.

The point here, of course, is not the irony of my blog but the disappointing conclusion and reality to what seemed from where we were, for a few minutes at least, a genuinely frightening proposition: the lights going out, black smoke appearing just across town, concern on people's faces. Maybe I've been watching too many trailers for Cloverfield. But as the entire power running to a building housing some 1,000 people failed utterly, and in the immediate confusion what looked like the aftermath of a bomb appeared starkly out of the window, there was a slight air of unease and mystery that was founded on unknowing, guesses and confusion. A desire for excitement, the thrill of potential horror, the possibilities far more interesting than the probable explanation would be.

So, investigative journo that I am, I walked down to the gardens in search of the facts, to be greeted by one policeman, some Do Not Cross tape flapping lamely in the wind and two men in fluorescent jackets with 'Electricity' on them looking down a hole. Wet leaves and fast-disappearing foam dampened the pavement. A few shoppers were still milling around - in fact the only thing that seemed to be closed was the Tourist Office itself. "Show's over" was never more appropriate. And, if you've read this all the way through, you're probably wondering if it even began. But if I'd stated that at the blog's opening, it wouldn't have made such a good story. And maybe that's the point.

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