HOMES had to be evacuated after a suspected arson attack in an underground car park in Grays.

Residents were woken by a loud explosion in Martello Close at about 1.20am on Friday.

At least one car was badly damaged in the fire, which was extinguished by fire crews by 2.45am.

The blast also damaged vital gas and electrical equipment.

A National Grid spokesman said 13 of the 18 homes on the estate were without gas, after pipes were disconnected as a precaution.

There is no estimate as to when they will be turned back on.

Electricity to 59 homes in the area was disconnected by UK Power Networks at 5am and, while most were reconnected by 6.18pm, 14 remained without power while electrical wiring was repaired and the buildings deemed structurally safe.

Andrew Bone, who lives on the estate, said on Friday afternoon he hadn’t been allowed back in his home since the incident while engineers from National Grid attended the scene.

He feared he and others could be out of their homes for weeks due to the damage.

He had two cars in the car park where the explosion happened and was yet to see what damage has been caused, but was told the scene looks “like a bomb site”.

Mr Bone said: “We’ve all been sent to hotels and other places to stay.

“I’ve got two young kids, so this is difficult. There’s no water, gas or electric in the homes. We could be out for weeks.”

Alan Webb, of Griffin Estates, which manages the properties on Martello Close, said he could make no estimate as to how long residents would be out of their homes until loss adjusters surveyed the damage today.

He said: “The damage appears extensive, but we won’t knowuntil it’s properly looked at and, until then, I wouldn’t want to speculate as to when people can return home.

“It was an unexpected scenario, but the emergency services, National Grid and the council have made the best of a bad situation and no-one has been left without anywhere to stay.”

The suspected arson is the fourth in six months in Little Thurrock.

In October and December last year, car dealership Mini and Acy Exports, on the Globe Industrial Estate, in Towers Road, was targeted, destroying 16 vehicles.

The same dealership was attacked again in January, when a further six vehicles were damaged.

A joint police and fire service investigation will be carried out to establish the cause of Friday morning’s blaze.