25 November 2013
Emergency response volunteers were called out to help last night (24 November) after a car bomb partially exploded outside a Belfast shopping centre.
Scores of residents had to leave their homes and many others were left stranded in the city after police set up a safety cordon. The device, which was left at a car park entrance, detonated at 11.15pm.
A team of six volunteers set up a rest centre at Ulster Hall, where 73 people bedded down for the night. The British Red Cross set up camp beds and provided blankets, hot drinks and refreshment – and regular updates to the evacuees.
Frances Sanderson, service manager, said: “A lot of people had come out from a big Hollies concert in the city centre to find their cars were behind the cordon, so they were completely stuck.”
She added: “Most people seemed upbeat, but some were distressed and understandably needed a bit of emotional support.
For example, two ladies were due to attend a wedding the next morning and all their clothes were locked away in their flat. Another two men also faced the prospect of missing flights.”
In many cases, the volunteers offered to drive stranded residents on to pre-booked hotels or out to their homes in the suburbs.
Frances recalled: “Three ladies were really upset about not being able to reach their car, and they couldn’t afford a taxi, so one of our volunteers drove them all the way home – which was 55 miles away. They were so grateful.”
Working in shifts, the volunteers were on call from 10pm yesterday until 8am this morning. Looking back, Frances said: “I’m a bit tired now – it was non-stop – but it was a very good response.
“We made sure that no-one wanted for anything while they were stranded away from their homes, which is what we’re there for.”