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43 hurt in blasts at UK oil depot

London, December 11
At least 43 persons were injured, two of them seriously, when a series of huge blasts ripped through an oil depot near Luton airport, northwest of London today, filling the sky with orange flames and thick black smoke and damaging nearby houses.

Detectives were treating the incident as an accident and earlier rumours that a plane was involved in the blast were unfounded, the police said. The fire had been controlled but was continuing to blaze and could burn for another day.

The first explosion took place at the Buncefield oil depot at Hertfordshire, close to junction 8 of the motorway, 20 km from Luton airport, at 11.33 IST. Witnesses said two more explosions followed it at 11.56 IST and 11.57 IST.

The blasts at the depot, operated by French firm Total and part-owned by American Texaco, could be heard up to 70 km and flames shot more than 200 feet into the sky, spreading panic in a country still trying to overcome the impact of the July 7 London terrorist attacks.

Hertfordshire police chief constable Frank Whiteley told newspersons that “all indications at this stage are that this was an accident. However, clearly we will keep an open mind until we can confirm that for certain.”

A police probe into the incident has begun. “This is the largest incidence of its kind in peacetime Europe,” Hertfordshire fire service spokesman Roy Wilshire said. Hospital officials said 43 persons had been treated for injuries from the explosions. The cause of the explosions was not immediately known, Total said in a statement. — PTI


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