Buncefield explosion: ‘I thought a plane landed on us’ – BBC News

Media captionThe explosion was the UK’s largest since World War Two

On the morning of 11 December 2005, the UK experienced its largest explosion since World War Two. The huge blast at the Buncefield fuel depot in Hemel Hempstead was heard as far away as the Netherlands and shrouded much of south-east England in smoke. Ten years on, what has been the lasting impact?

It was just after 06:00 GMT on Sunday when David Mitchell was awoken by an “unbelievable” explosion that caused his home to start falling down around him.

His house was “shaking and shuddering” so much he supposed an aeroplane had landed on it.

His five-year-old daughter somehow managed to sleep through the deafening noise but woke up covered in rubble in a home where the walls had collapsed and the roof had caved in.

Image copyright Ford Shackcloth Image caption Houses in the area were wrecked by the blast

Mr Mitchell said his family operated outside and ensure a “huge, huge, fireball”, realised the oil depot, some 400 m away, had exploded.

Read more about the 10 th anniversary of the Buncefield explosion

At the time, the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal – co-owned by Total and Texaco – handled more than two million metric tonnes of petrol, diesel and aviation fuel each year and was the fifth largest petroleum products storage depot in the UK.

Image caption Ford Shackcloth’s and David Mitchell’s homes were some of the closest to the terminal
Image copyright Tom Margesson Image caption The rapid formation of a rich ga and air vapors caused an explosion equivalent to 30 tonnes of TNT
Image copyright NASA Image caption At one point black smoking encompassed much of south-eastern England as this satellite image from 13:36 GMT indicates

With smaller detonations still happening, the first thought of those living nearby was to leave. They fled from thick black smoke to the sanctuary of hotels outside the immediate explosion zone.

The area was videotapeed off as a suspected crime scene – although ultimately the explosion was revealed to be down to human error – and unable to return by road, Mr Mitchell, together with neighbour Ford Shackcloth, trudged across surrounding fields to gather a few essentials from their homes.

Grabbing credit cards and pet cats, at this stage they couldn’t have realised the fight for compensation would take years as petroleum companies battled lawyers over “tiny details”.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption It took 53 m litres of water and virtually 800,000 litres of foam to extinguish the flame
Image copyright AFP Image caption The Hemel Hempstead site was devastated

The damage to Mr Mitchell’s house took about six months to repair at a cost of about 200,000 but the psychological impact was even more significant, with their own families developing post-traumatic stress disorder( PTSD ).

“The thing that really got to me was how closely connected to death my children came … that was something that was very, very difficult to come to words with, ” he said.

“The whole event did definitely change my life … we all suffered from PTSD and even years later we were still having the occasional flashbacks.

“I had a lot of treatment, I’m OK now I’m glad to say, but the memory of it is not something I particularly like to recall.”

Image copyright Ford Shackcloth Image caption The ceiling fell on to a bed in Ford Shackcloth’s home – “we couldn’t change insurers for five years”, he said
Image copyright Ford Shackcloth Image caption The pressure wave from the explosion momentarily lifted the roof off Ford Shackcloth’s home
Image caption Mr Shackcloth’s house was rebuilt – he says he now has “hundreds of insurance policies that I never had before merely in case”

Mr Shackcloth, who owns a music shop in St Albans, said both his wife and his daughter, then aged nine, were also treated for PTSD.

The pressure wave from the explosion momentarily lifted the roof off his house. When the roof came back down, it popped out the windows and the front doorway. Ceilings come in and the walls were damaged.

The “chaos” of rebuilding took approximately one year, although it took five years to be compensated by the petroleum company.

The Buncefield explosion

Unleaded motor fuel was being pumped into storage tank 912 in the north-west corner of the site

Staff did not realise capacity had been reached Safeguards failed – automatic shutdown did not happen and fuel continued to be pumped in By 05:20 GMT the tank was overflowing through roof ventilates A fuel and air vapour cloud formed causing an explosion equivalent to 30 tonnes of TNT, measuring 2.4 on the Richter scale Further detonations followed and flame engulfed 20 large storage tanks The blaze took five days to put out Image caption The smoke cloud blocked the sunlight for miles around, as this shot from St Albans demonstrates Image caption The M1 was shut as it was enveloped in thick smoke

53m litres of water

180, 000 litres of foam

180 firefighters

Image caption The flame took five days to extinguish Image caption Fire engulfed 20 large storage tanks Image caption Some 92 industries at the nearby Maylands Industrial Estate, applying 9,500 faculty, were directly or severely affected Image caption A new aviation ga storage and distribution terminal is currently under construction on the Buncefield site

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