Belgium gas blast kills 14
[size=1]Friday, July 30, 2004 Posted: 1203 GMT (2003 HKT) [/size]
BRUSSELS, Belgium – At least 14 people were killed and 200 injured when an underground natural gas pipeline exploded in southern Belgium, officials said.
The blast occurred about 8:30 a.m. Friday as workers were repairing a leak, and firefighters and police responding to the leak were among the injured, officials said.
[left]The explosion occurred about 30 minutes after a leak was reported.[/left]
Authorities feared the death toll could rise.
“The latest information that I have is that there are 14 people dead, and 200 wounded, of which 100 are burnt,” Belgium Health Ministry spokesman Karim Ibourki told Reuters.
“That number … 14 is highly provisional. From the information that I have gathered, many of the 200 wounded are severely wounded.”
French and Belgian emergency teams, including Belgian army units and dozens of ambulances, converged on the scene. Victims with severe burns were taken by helicopter to hospitals across Belgium.
The explosion in the industrial area of Ghislenghien, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) southeast of Brussels, happened after construction workers pierced the underground line, The Associated Press quoted acting provincial governor Guy Petit as telling Belgian media.
Area residents were told to stay indoors and keep their windows and doors closed to keep out heavy smoke, but the Health Ministry said the smoke was not toxic, AP reported.
Police closed a stretch of the E429 motorway, which links Brussels to Lille and Calais, France, but no evacuation was ordered.
The blast shook the ground like an earthquake and could be seen and felt several kilometers (miles) away, witnesses told Belgian media.
Huge orange flames shot into the sky, catching two nearby factories on fire and scorching an area several hundred meters (yards) around the explosion site.
Eyewitness Olivier Rampelberg, who lives about 3 km (2 miles) from the scene, said he heard a sound like a thunderclap.
[right] [left]Aftermath of the explosion at Ghislenghien, Belgium[/left]
“It sounded like continuous thunder,” Reuters quoted him as telling RTBF television. “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,” Reuters said.
The line, one meter (yard) in diameter, carries gas from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge to northern France. Fluxys, which runs the country’s network of gas pipelines, confirmed the gas leak led to the explosion.
The company said its employees were not among the injured, and that disruptions to the region’s gas supply were minor.
Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt returned from his holiday in Italy to visit the disaster site, his office said.
It was the deadliest disaster in Belgium since 14 people were killed in a motorway pile-up in thick fog in 1996, Reuters said.
Let’s pray the deathtoll doesn’t rise anymore.