Black clouds of smoke block sunlight in London
A fire at an oil depot north of London blazed for a second day after explosions rocked the complex in probably the biggest such incident in peacetime Europe, Hertfordshire firefighters said.
Fire crews were preparing today to use foam to extinguish a massive blaze at a fuel depot north of London after a wave of explosions ripped through the facility and injured 43 people.
Authorities said the blasts Sunday morning appeared to be accidental, though they came just four days after an Al Qaeda video appeared on the Internet calling for attacks on facilities carrying oil "stolen" from Muslims in the Middle East.
The explosions generated a huge fireball and sent a spectacular plume of smoke hundreds of feet in the air that turned the sky black for miles around Hemel Hempstead, about 30 miles north of London.
About 2,000 people living near the depot were evacuated, main roads were closed, and some flights into London's Heathrow Airport were delayed. Most of the 43 injured suffered cuts and bruises from windows that shattered in the blast, but two men, including a plant worker, were seriously hurt.
Witnesses said another two explosions followed the first at 0626 GMT and 0627 GMT. In total, 20 petrol tanks were involved in the fire, each said to hold three million gallons of fuel. A police investigation into the incident has begun, including investigations by anti-terrorist police. But Chief Con Whiteley said there was "nothing to suggest anything other than an accident". A Hertfordshire fire service spokesman said: "This is the largest incidence of its kind in peacetime Europe."
Samples of the smoke are being taken to determine the long term effects of exposure, if any, according to the regional director of public health Jane Halpin.
The blasts could be heard up to 100 miles away - some reports suggested that they were felt as far away as northern France and the Netherlands - while flames leapt more than 200ft in the sky. Windows and doors were blown in and roofs were damaged up to three miles from the depot.
The Buncefield depot is a major distribution terminal operated by Total and part-owned by Texaco, storing oil, petrol as well as kerosene which supplies airports across the region, including Heathrow and Luton. The country’s fifth largest fuel distribution depot, it is also used by BP, Shell and British Pipeline. Police said there was no indication the explosion would cause fuel shortages and warned against panic-buying.
At the time of the blasts Buncefield contained 7.7 million gallons of oil, petrol and paraffin - five per cent of the country's fuel stocks. When operating at full capacity, it holds nearly 16 million gallons of oil, including petrol, diesel, paraffin and aviation fuel.
Fire-fighters have been given the go-ahead to tackle one of the biggest fires in Britain since the Second World War after satisfying environmental concerns. The operation to create a “foam blanket” to put out the huge inferno at the Buncefield oil depot near Hemel Hemsptead was due to begin at midnight but was delayed after fears that water supplies could be affected.
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