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Last Updated: Friday, 30 July, 2004, 17:16 GMT 18:16 UK
Fifteen die in Belgium gas blast
industrial site
The blast and fire left a scene of devastation
A huge gas explosion in Belgium has killed 15 people and injured 120, many of them with serious burns.

The blast, at an industrial park about 30km (20 miles) south-west of Brussels, sent flames shooting into the air, and was felt over a wide area.

A fire service spokesman at the scene near the town of Ath said the site of the explosion looked like a war zone.

Emergency services treated the blast as a major incident and troops helped with the disaster response.

A nearby motorway was closed and local residents were advised to stay indoors with their windows closed.

It sounded as if a plane had crashed. All the windows shook... it was terrible, terrible
Witness

Some of the dead are reported to have been killed as they went to investigate a leak in the pipeline carrying gas from the port of Zeebrugge on the Belgian coast to France.

Firefighters and policemen are among the casualties.

Devastation

A fire service spokesman told Reuters news agency that bodies and debris from the blast were scattered hundreds of metres around the disaster site at the Ghislenghien industrial park.


"There were bodies in parking lots, in the fields; burnt out cars in an area half a kilometre wide," he said. "It looks like a war zone.

Local resident Olivier Rampelberg, who lives about 3km (2 miles) from the scene, told Belgian television he heard the loud blast.

"It sounded like continuous thunder," he said. "Then little grains of scorched earth rained down."

Another witness told a radio reporter: "It sounded as if a plane had crashed. All the windows shook... it was terrible, terrible."

'Not dangerous'

Army units have been called in to help co-ordinate the disaster response and military helicopters have helped ferry victims to hospitals and specialist burn units.

France has also sent medical support and a helicopter.

Christian Otto, a spokesman for Fluxys, which runs the country's gas pipelines, said the blast completely destroyed buildings in the immediate area.

He said the company had stopped pumping gas along the line and had taken measures to keep supplying customers.

Acting provincial governor Guy Petit said local people were no longer at risk.

"This was a leak of gas for residential use - it is not a dangerous chemical," he said.

Belgian Interior Minister Patrick Dewael and Defence Minister Andre Flahaut have both gone to the scene and Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt has broken off his holiday in Italy to fly home and visit the disaster site.


Read a selection of your eyewitness accounts below

I live 25 kilometres from Ath, in the countryside. I was eating my breakfast outside and I suddenly heard what I thought to be a plane. After one minute or two, I saw a huge white cloud which was growing and growing, like a "slow motion" atomic cloud. I phoned the emergency services, dialling 112. The line was down. I also dialled 100, a traditional national emergency number. The line was also down. Then, I called the police. Before I could say anything, the guy told me "Wait a minute!". During at least two minutes, I heard people shouting and discussing. When the guy came back, he said "We know something happened, but we don't know what, sorry".
Philippe Félix, 1460 Ittre, Belgium

I am presently staying at my father's place and live in Silly, Belgium which is only a few miles from the explosion site. I was awoken this morning from the sound of a huge explosion and the house was shaking in it's foundation. I have never heard such a horrendous noise in my life, I went outside the front of the house, to see what was happening and could see flames shooting into the air and a grey/black smoke, filling the air around it!! My condole scenes go to those who lost their loved ones in this disaster, and my praise to those fire fighters and other emergency services, who put their own lives at risk to help and rescue the badly injured.
Natalie, Brussels

Our thoughts are with the Belgium people on this day
Liam Anderson, Aberdeen Scotland

At about 8:55 this morning I heard a loud rumble which slowly grew and then a bang. For a moment, I thought a tractor or large truck hit my house as the windows violently shook. However, the loud rumble increased, followed by an immense explosion then a sound resembling a plane landing very nearby. I ran out of the house, looked into the sky for an airplane. As I turned to look across the farmers' fields a huge flame rose in the air followed by several loud whooshes. The flames continued for nearly 20 minutes all the while with the whooshing still resembling a landing airplane. At the top of the flames, a great white cloud formed followed by a darkened one as the flames diminished. Shortly afterwards, there were sirens and helicopters while ash fell into my garden. I live approximately 5kms from the industrial site.
Jennifer Poulson, Gondregnies Belgium

My husband and I were waiting for someone to come to our house. We heard this loud noise and our house shook. I thought maybe a cargo plane was flying very low over our house. The sound continued so we went in our backyard. We saw a huge ball of smoke. I instantly thought of terrorism and was scared. A friend called and said she heard it was an airplane crash. My husband made some phone calls and we found out about the explosion.
Krista Sullivan, Herchies, Belgium

I live 10kms from the scene. I was opening the windows upstairs to let some fresh air in. suddenly there was a bang and a roaring noise as if an aeroplane was going through the sound barrier, shaking windows and doors, and then...amongst all the roaring, a small white cloud which became bigger and bigger. It was a very strange phenomenon, as there seemed to be no connection between the white cloud and earth. It grew bigger and bigger, until it stopped and slowly disintegrated. Later a black cloud was seen at the horizon after the roaring noise had stopped. The animals in the neighbourhood were terrified and in panic.

The atomic cloud thought struck my mind as well, and it was only when I put the radio on that I heard about the explosion and the many dead and injured. I hope this gets properly investigated. Apparently it was a burst main gas pipeline. Imagine this happening in a town, or city? Last week I reported a gas smell which came from a locked room in the underground car park of Brussels South Station. The security guy laughed, could not be bothered, thought it was my mind doing overtime...Time we take those things more serious...
Marleen De Wulf, Herne, Belgium

I was awoken early this morning by what I thought must have been a plane crash, the noise was extremely loud and unnerving!! The house was shaking to it's very foundations, I went outside to see what had happened and all I could see was this huge cloud of black smoke, and flames shooting high into the air!! Being a British citizen living in Belgium it took me a while to understand the extent of this disaster, I knew it was bad though, as all I could hear were ambulances and fire-engines going past my house every couple of minutes!!!
Maddie Fros, Silly, Belgium




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Allan Little
"Debris from the initial explosion was found up to four miles away"



SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Belgium
20 Jul 04  |  Country profiles


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