Terror fears as massive blast hits Hertfordshire oil depot

Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire - Massive explosion rips through oil depot. Huge black cloud darkens the area.

Reports of a low-flying plane in the area shortly below the blast are unconfirmed.

Evacuations as blasts tear through oil depot
09:14am 11th December 2005

A series of explosions tore through an oil depot early today sending flames and smoke shooting hundreds of feet into the sky.

Police and emergency crews raced to the scene of the blasts which rocked Buncefield fuel terminal, near Hemel Hempstead, in Hertfordshire, around 6am.

There were unconfirmed reports of casualties at the depot.

Initial reports said witnesses heard a plane going overhead shortly before the first explosions - but police were quick to dismiss that suggestion, insisting the incident was an "accident".

The first blast happened just after 6am at the fuel terminal in Leverstock Green, which is believed to supply aviation fuel via pipes to Heathrow airport.

The force of the blast - which was heard across the south east from at least 40 miles away - sent flames shooting 200ft into the sky.

A spokeswoman for Hertfordshire Police said: "Police and other emergency services are attending the area of Buncefield oil depot near Hemel Hempstead this morning following reports of an explosion just after 6am.

"There is nothing to suggest at this stage that this is anything but an accident, but we are keeping an open mind.

"Contrary to rumours in circulation, there is also nothing to suggest that a plane was involved in this accident."

Witnesses said homes and surrounding businesses were damaged by the force of explosions, Residents nearby said they were awoken by a "loud boom" as their houses "shook".

People living as far away as Surrey, Reading and south London reported that they heard the initial blast. Two smaller blasts followed at around 6.20am.

It is understood that windows of the Ramada Hotel, in nearby Hemel Hempstead, were blown out and a number of people were thought to have been injured.

The hotel, along with the neighbouring Holiday Inn, was evacuated.

A Holiday Inn guest told Sky News: "We were in our room and at about 6am there was this huge explosion. The room shook."

Witness Paul Hayes said he was close to the scene of the blast on an industrial estate.

He told Sky News: "I heard alarms going off. Buildings were smashed and falling down. Someone told me a petrol dump had exploded."

Duncan Milligan, of Hemel Hempstead, said he was awoken by the explosion as his home "shook".

"There was a loud boom and the house shook violently. I am about three miles from where the explosion took place but I can see flames soaring high in the sky and smoke billowing everywhere.

"There is clearly a building on fire near the motorway and police and emergency services are everywhere."

An unnamed woman told Sky News: "My house was shaken. CDs were falling off the racks. I jumped into my car and we went towards the industrial estate.

"I could see buildings with windows smashed. I could feel the heat from the flames.

"Emergency services were there and people seemed to arrive from nowhere. There was concern about people living in cottages nearby. A bungalow is thought to very close. People are being evacuated."

There were reports that drivers had pulled off the nearby M1 as they saw the flames.

Flights at Luton airport - about 10 miles away - in Hertfordshire were operating normally.

The fuel terminal, which is close junction 8 of the M1 forced the closure of the motorway in both directions between junctions 6 and 10. The M10 was also completely closed.

Ocean Breeze
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Terrible terrible and terrible tragedy.
Despite Hertforshire bordering North London, the explosion was heard in Whitehall in Central London, Norfolk, South London and Surrey. Roofs of nearby houses have been damaged and windows blown in.

One man, living 3 MILES from the blast, said he heard a "boom" and his house shock.

It was obviously a massive explosion, and the site covers 100 acres.

'It was terrifying ... everything was shaking'

Staff and agencies
Sunday December 11, 2005

People watch a huge cloud of smoke and flames billowing from the burning Buncefield oil depot, in Hemel Hempstead. Photograph: Harish Luther/AP

A massive blast which ripped through a fuel terminal early today woke startled residents as their homes literally shook from the force of the explosion.

The blast could be felt up to 40 miles away with flames shooting hundreds of feet in the air.

A huge pall of dense black smoke hung over the Buncefield oil terminal after the first blast at 6am, which was followed by two smaller explosions 20 minutes later.

Norrie Vine, a 71-year-old taxi driver, was thrown from a chair in his flat in in Wood Close, near Wood Lane End, Hemel Hempstead, when the blast happened.
He said he initially thought it was bomb going off.

"At first I thought it was an al-Qaida thing, I have lived around the world and I know what explosions sound like," said Mr Vine.

It felt like the "force of a 2,000lb bomb - it was a pretty horrific thing".

He added: "I was asleep in my chair when I nearly got blown out of my flat.

"There was just one huge explosion and everything shook.

"I am all right, I have just one broken window and insulation from the roof has come down because the explosion blew open the trap door in the ceiling."

He went on: "It was terrifying. I thought that it was going to be the end of me, everything was shaking.

"I got lifted out of my chair and dumped back on the ground."

Mr Vine said there were several shockwaves after the first blast and everybody ran into the cul-de-sac before being moved out by police.

He added: "I am going to stay here for now and have my cup of coffee."

More than two miles away at a block of houses overlooking the site, windows were shattered.

One resident peered through the broken glass, gazing at the inferno in front of his house.

Eyewitness Mark Mulholand told Sky News that many workers he went to help were in a state of shock.

"I spoke to one security guard. He said his colleague was bleeding from the ears and had perforated his ear drum."

Calum Russell, a spokesman for the Ramada Hotel, in Hemel Hempstead, said all 187 residents had been evacuated following the blast but had now been allowed to return and the hotel was fully operating again.

"Two guests suffered minor cuts," he said. "They were treated by trained first aiders at the hotel."

He said the hotel suffered minor damage, such as broken glass.

Among those evacuated was a group of around 70 people living at a gypsy caravan site on Cherry Tree Lane.

Hara Babu, 30, who lives in Leverstock Green, only a couple of miles from the fuel depot, woke up to find the windows of his house had been shattered.

The software engineer said: "It was about six o'clock this morning that I heard a large bang and all my windows were shattered.

"I was very scared and went to look out of the window to see what was going on - there was a big wall of flames. First of all I thought it was a huge bomb blast."

Chris Batty, 46, lives on Woolmer Drive, also in Leverstock Green, in a large block of flats overlooking the fuel depot. He said: "I was in bed when the explosion went off. All the windows rattled and the back door banged and I looked out to see what it was.

"At first it was hard to tell what had happened, but then there was a huge ball of flames rising up in the sky."



The toxic black smoke is covering almost the whole sky in the area, and it is still dark - it's as though dawn never happened.

Residents nearby are being evacuated, and there are reports of cars in he streets on fire.
Ocean Breeze
Not much info coming in yet on this side of the ocean. Lots of "breaking news" items about it.

Will be following this closely..

Does not bode well.
so far,the official statement says it was an accident. The actual truth may never be revealed[official secrets act]
Ocean Breeze
www.esa.int/esaCP/SEMTBYVLWFE_index_0.html (external - login to view)

London masked in smoke....

Anyone from England here for a report from the area???

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