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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Frantic bid to cut victims free of burning wreckage after 27-vehicle smash on M5

-Cars and lorries engulfed in flames following crash near Taunton, Somerset
-Police confirm several deaths as several people suffer 'life-changing' injuries
-Fire officer: It is 'the worst road traffic collision anyone can remember'
-Dramatic scenes as motorists try to pull others free from burning wreckage
-Too early to speculate on cause, but weather could be a significant factor
-Motorway expected to be closed for 24 hours along 18-mile stretch
-Emergency number for concerned relatives: 0800 092 0410

By John Hutchinson and Richard Hartley-parkinson

People try to free motorists from the pile-up in Taunton, Somerset, as fires burn in the background

There were scenes of carnage on the M5 tonight after a fire broke out following a multiple-vehicle crash involving at least 20 cars and six lorries.

Several were feared dead while 10 are believed to have suffered from 'life-changing injuries' when the crash happened at 8.30pm in Taunton, Somerset.

In total, 40 were taken to hospital suffering from various injuries and firefighters from across the region were battling to cut motorists free from cars while fires burned in nearby cars.

Motorist Paul O'Connor described the aftermath of the pile-up as 'disturbing'. 'I heard a loud bang and saw the flames,' he told Sky News.

Several people are feared dead as fires break out at a multiple-vehicle car crash on the M5

'I thought it was something to do with bonfire night and then realised it was something quite bad. It was quite horrific and I have never seen anything like that - I could see people lying on the side of the road. It was quite disturbing really.'

Mr O'Connor, who was travelling to Plymouth when the incident happened, continued: 'I saw two people lying down and there were quite a lot of people around them - the emergency services were doing what they could, I don't know if they were OK.

'I heard at one point firefighters telling people trapped inside a vehicle not to panic and they were trying to do what they could to get them out.'

The motorist said he had to pull off the motorway at a service station after witnessing the carnage.

'I think there were other people who had seen it and done the same - it was quite disturbing really.'

Asked what he thought may have caused the incident he added: 'When I got there there was no fog but five minutes up the road there was really heavy fog so I think that could be the cause of it.'

Andrea Day from Trafficlink said it was the worst accident she has seen in the 10 years she had been working for the traffic information provider.

'I have never come across an accident of this kind - not in terms of the volume of vehicles involved,' she told Sky.

Paul Slaven of Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service told the BBC: 'This is the worst road traffic collision anyone can remember... so many vehicles involved.'

A man can be seen close to the wreckage as desperate attempts are made to free people trapped in vehicles

One fire fighter said: 'This is the worst road traffic collision anyone can remember... so many vehicles involved.'

He added that 15 fire appliances were at the scene with officers trying to put out the fires while others cut victims free with hydraulic equipment.

He told Sky News the police were now working to lessen the impact of the tailbacks on the motorways, with the long stretch of carriageway likely to be shut for the next 24 hours.

Asked why the vehicle fires had been so fierce he said: 'I have not had a report of any toxic or chemical material being carried by any vehicles it is just a case of the number of vehicles involved and the type of vehicle.

'At least two of the vehicles on fire were articulated lorries and there would be a lot of fuel on them.'

He added that it was too early to speculate what had caused the pile-up, but said there had been a number of contributing factors which made road conditions dangerous.

'The weather was not particularly good at the time and it would have been particularly busy at the time because of the Bridgwater Carnival,' he said.

Mr Slaven said the police were in the process of setting up a dedicated telephone line for worried relatives of people who may have been in the area at the time of the incident.

A Highways Agency spokeswoman said this would affect people leaving the Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival tonight.

'Diversion arrangements are being made but motorists leaving the carnival will have to find alternative routes to the M5,' she said.

Police said the motorway was likely to be closed for 24 hours.

Speaking to the BBC Simon Bruford, 38, from Willerton in Somerset, who was driving southbound, said: 'I could see the flames from quite a way back.

'I spent 18 years in the Somerset fire service and have seen a lot nasty things, but that was horrific,' he added.

A spokesman said: 'Police, fire and ambulance are in attendance and there are reports of multiple serious injuries and possible fatalities.

'The motorway has now been closed in both directions from junctions 23 to 26. It is likely to remain closed for a number of hours. Motorists are asked to avoid the area.'

A spokesman for Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said: 'Four vehicles were reported to be on fire, including two lorries.

At least 11 casualties were reported including four people who were trapped and had to be released by firefighters using hydraulic rescue equipment.'
It said cars, vans and heavy goods vehicles were involved.

The fire rages out of control amid scenes of utter carnage after the crash in heavy fog

Flames leap above the scene of carnage on the M5 at junction 25 in Somerset

Ten fire appliances and special appliances are at the scene from Taunton, Glastonbury, Bridgwater, Wiveliscombe, Wellington, Burnham on Sea, and Yeovil.

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue later said there were 20 'light vehicles' and six articulated lorries involved in the incident travelling north on the M5 in Somerset at around 8.30pm.

'There are now 15 fire appliances at the scene, with additional appliances from Chard, Street, Cullompton and Tiverton,' said Avon and Somerset Police.

Assistant Chief Constable Anthony Bangham said: 'Undoubtedly this is a tragic incident. All emergency services are at the scene and are working tirelessly to attend to those who are injured or who are trapped in vehicles.

'We have now launched an emergency number members of the public can call if you genuinely fear for the welfare of a friend or loved one and you fear they may be injured.

'Before you call this number please make all attempts to contact them via mobile phones or via friends, family or by any other usual measures.

'If this fails and you still remain concerned please call 0800 092 0410.'



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