A Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) van bomb explodes outside the Northern Ireland Forensic Science Laboratory (NIFSL) on the Newtownbreda Road on the outskirts of Belfast late in the evening of September 23, 1992. It is one of the biggest bombs detonated in a residential area of Northern Ireland. The blast comes after a temporary lull in an IRA bombing campaign.
The 2,000 lb. (900kg) bomb goes off outside the laboratory at Newtownbreda while Army bomb disposal experts are moving in to investigate a large, abandoned van. The alarm is raised when the IRA makes a telephone warning saying that it has planted a “massive van bomb.”
The device reduces every room to rubble. It also causes damage, in some cases severe, to more than 700 homes and other premises. One estimate puts repair costs after the blast at about £20 million.
The wrecking of the laboratory is a blow to the authorities, because the blast destroys valuable forensic evidence for use in the prosecution of terrorist suspects. But on a personal level it is a traumatic night for hundreds of families who live through the explosion and face the task of repairing their homes.
The blast is unusually loud and destructive. It shakes Belfast and is heard for miles around. Many people living some distance away are convinced the explosion had been outside their door. One man who lives 10 miles away believes his home is under attack and goes outside with a golf club to investigate.
Emergency staff say the area affected is one of the largest they had ever known, with damage reported up to a radius of a mile and a half. But the brunt of the damage is suffered by Belvoir Park, a model and almost incident-free largely Protestant housing estate built by a public authority but now largely privately owned, which is separated from the laboratory by a dual carriageway.
Up to 50 homes are demolished. In one experience which is typical of many, a 65-year-old widow who lives alone is watching television when the bomb goes off. Much of the plaster ceiling collapses while the window shatters into fragments and showers the room. An immediate power cut plunges the house into darkness. She escapes with only a slight cut to the head.
After the explosion people roam the darkened estate in cars and on foot, checking for relatives and friends while police officers help tend those suffering from shock and injuries. No one is seriously hurt. A number of pet cats and dogs panic and run off into the night.
In the early hours of September 24, rain pours through damaged roofs, making life even more difficult for families involved in immediate repair work. At 5:00 AM, almost eight hours after the blast, workmen are still engaged in boarding up broken windows.
(From: “Damage in huge blast put at 20m pounds: A Belfast housing estate counts the cost of an IRA bomb which may have destroyed vital criminal evidence” by David McKittrick, Ireland Correspondent, The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk)