BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Hundreds of workers and shoppers escaped from central Belfast buildings and streets seconds before a 500- pound Irish Republican Army bomb exploded Monday, the second huge blast to rock the city's business center in less than 18 hours.
A total of eight bombs have caused extensive camage in the Belfast area during the past seven weeks, confirming security reports that the IRA was planning to bomb econonmic targets and government buildings in a new campaign.
Monday's bomb, planted in stolen post office van, exploded beside River House in High Street, headquarters of the Police Authority in Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Dozens of buildings were damaged by the blast.
The bomb exploded Monday afternoon as police were clearing the area after a telephone warning by the IRA to a local newspaper that a bomb would explode within 30 minutes. A number of people, including police officers suffered minor injuries, mostly shock and slight ear damage.
'The bomb exploded as scores other (bomb) alerts caused chaos in the city and brought traffic to a standstill,' a police spokesman said. 'Police evacuating the area told people to run for their lives. Some were only yards from the bomb when it went off, blowing them off their feet.'
On Sunday night, a 600-pound bomb exploded less than half a mile from the scene of Monday's attack causing massive damage to buildings in Bedford Street and slightly injuring several security officers evacuating the area.
Britain's Economy Minister in Northern Ireland Richard Needham visited the scenes of both explosions.
'We will not let the IRA win,' he said. 'Every building that has been damaged will be repaired and every window that has been shattered will be replaced. They will not win.'
The first bomb went off around 9:23 p.m. Sunday as police and soldiers searched the area following a telephone call from the IRA about 30 minutes earlier, the RUC said.
'Many of the commercial buildings had caretakers and security personnel, it is a miracle that no one was killed,' said an RUC spokesman.
Three other IRA bomb alerts in the immediate vicinity shortly before the bombing were hoaxes.
In a separate incident, a bomb was discovered Sunday hidden among trees in Lancashire, near one of the largest army camps in northern England, police said.
The 6-pound device, hidden in a green cotton bag, was similar to those previously used by the IRA in mainland attacks.
Security forces said Sunday that the device was not 'current' and said it could have been left around the time another bomb exploded at a Royal Air Force recruiting office in the town of Preston, on June 30.
The outlawed IRA has waged an armed struggle for more than 20 years to oust Britain from Northern Ireland.