There has been a huge explosion followed by several other blasts north of London at Buncefield oil depot, near junction 8 on the M1 motorway, which has been closed in both directions between junctions 6a and 12. A column of flames and thick black smoke is shooting hundreds of metres into the sky.
Buncefield depot services Luton and Heathrow airports, and is one of Britain’s biggest fuel storage facilities, operated by Total and part-owned by Texaco, and is directly connected by pipeline to Linsey oil refinery and Heathrow. Many houses have been damaged, and structural damage is widespread in the surrounding light industrial estate, with reports of a number of buildings that have collapsed. Many local residents in Hemel Hempstead have left their homes in shock, and police are evacuating the nearest residential areas.
Police confirm there are minimal casualties, and for the moment two depot workers are unaccounted for. Police have added they are currently working on the assumption that this is an industrial accident. Luton airport is managing to operate normally. The blasts were felt 60 kilometres away, and heard as far away as Surrey and Norfolk. The fire is now burning out of control.
Security guards on duty reported smelling gas before the explosion, and there is now an overpowering smell of petrol and aviation fuel in the area.
Police and rescue workers are being called in from weekend leave to cope with what is being described as a major incident, with emergency services from outside Hertfordshire coming into the area to assist in the emergency operation. The depot is also a major supplier of fuel and gas to the entire south-east of England, and it appears none of the storage tanks in the plant have survived unscathed. The site contains 20 fuel tanks, each holding over 13.5 million litres of fuel.