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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Motorway fireball: At least seven dead and 51 injured in horrific crash on M5 described as 'worst ever seen by emergency services

-Police confirm at least seven people have been killed and several more have suffered life-changing injuries
-Death toll could rise as emergency services admit people may still be trapped in 'burnt and unrecognisable' vehicles
-Fire officer: It is 'the worst road traffic collision anyone can remember'
-Dramatic scenes as motorists try to pull others free from burning wreckage as a huge fireball engulfs the carriageway
-Weather could be a significant factor in the crash and a firework display was going on at the time
-Motorway expected to be closed for 24 hours along 18-mile stretch
-Emergency number for concerned relatives: 0800 092 0410

By Richard Hartley-parkinson and Craig Mackenzie

Inspection: Police and emergency workers at the scene early today on the M5 in Taunton, Somerset which has been shut as officers examine the carnage

At least seven people were killed and 51 injured in a horrific crash on the M5 motorway described by the emergency services as one of the worst they have ever seen.

There are fears the death toll could soar even higher as police said they believe bodies may still be trapped in vehicles which have been left 'burnt and unrecognisable'.

The smash on the northbound carriageway near Taunton, Somerset, involved 23 cars and vans and four lorries. Police said the vehicles were 'immediately alight' following the crash as a huge fire engulfed the carriageway.

Aftermath: The mangled burnt out wreckage of a vehicle lies by the side of the motorway barrier

Burned out: A charred lorry destroyed by the fire which erupted during the 27-vehicle carnage on the M5

All that's left: Three emergency workers at the scene of some of the vehicles burned into twisted metal

Officers confirmed that a fireworks display was going on nearby when the collision happened at 8.25pm last night. They said the road was wet and there was fog in the area at the time.

Television footage showed motorists trying to pry open vehicle doors in a bid to rescue those trapped. The carriageway will remain closed until at least tomorrow as repairs are carried out.

The accident is already the worst on British roads since 1991 when 10 people were killed and 25 injured in a huge pile-up on the M4 in Hungerford, Berkshire.

Fifteen appliances raced to the scene and immediately closed off the motorway in both directions. It is expected to be shut for the next 24 hours while emergency workers recover bodies and clear the debris from the accident.

Firefighters used hydraulic equipment to pull injured from the wrecked vehicles. Some had 'life changing' injuries.

Witnesses claim the pile-up was triggered when an Iceland truck suddenly disappeared into a 'black hole' of fog. Ciara Neno, from Weston-super-Mare, said: 'A black fog came down and the Iceland truck literally disappeared.

Inferno: Blazing vehicles involved in the 27-vehicle pile-up are captured in dramatic footage shown on Sky TV. Sixteen people are feared to have died

Pile-up: Crashed lorries and cars jammed together on the M5 after the accident in which many people died

Wreckage: Firemen inspect the damage after the horror accident. Over 40 injured were taken to hospital

'We managed to brake and miss the lorry but it was too late, the carnage had already started.

'All we heard was thump, thump, thump. My husband dragged people from the cars, the smell was horrendous and there were a number of explosions.

'We walked away but others weren't so lucky.'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.'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.'[related

Mr O'Connor, who was travelling to Plymouth when the incident happened, added: '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.

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

Danger: Emergency rescue workers close in on the blazing vehicles and the motorists trapped in the cars

'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.'

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.'

Sam Jones, from Wedmore, Somerset, was travelling home from Plymouth when the accident happened.The legal aide, 22, tried to help the trapped motorists but couldn't get close enough because of the extreme heat coming from the wreckages. He said: 'I was about seven cars behind and had to do an emergency stop to avoid it. I suddenly saw these cars weren't moving.

'I got out of my car to try and help but it was too dangerous. There were lots of explosions and it was too hot to get close to the lorries involved.

It was scary and it was only until later that I realised there were more cars in front of the lorries. If I was 30 seconds earlier it would have been me.

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.'

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.

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

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.

Edmund King, president of the AA, said the scale of the crash was similar to one on the M4 near Hungerford in Berkshire in 1991. In foggy conditions 10 died and 25 were injured in a 51 vehicle smash.

Local resident Bev Davis heard the devastating accident from her home close to the motorway. 'All we could hear was the sound of a horn and then the flames got so high so quickly and the noise was horrific,' she told the BBC.

'There were explosions of what I think must have been tyres - it was although the fireworks (from the nearby Bridgwater Carnival) were starting again but we knew they had finished.There must have been 200 metres-worth of fire - plumes of smoke were going up and everything was red.'

Today the Highways Agency urged all motorists to avoid the area, with the northbound and southbound sections between junctions 25 and 24 closed off.

Jeremy Browne, MP for Taunton Deane paid tribute to the 'bravery' of the emergency workers who dealt with the 'horrendous accident'.

He said: 'There has not been a crash on this scale for many years and the implications of it will be life-changing for many people.'

Dr Colin Close, medical director for Taunton's Musgrove Park Hospital where many of the injured are being treated, said the hospital had dealt with 'nothing of this magnitude ever before'.

The injuries of those brought in ranged from simple limb fractures to more complex chest and abdominal trauma, he said.

One surgeon was flown in by helicopter from Exeter to help treat the casualties.

'They have been treated and none are in a critical condition,' he added. 'Everyone is stable.'

A spokesman at Yeovil District Hospital said: 'We put our emergency plan into operation. It was a very busy night for us and our staff did really well.'

Assistant Chief Constable Anthony Bangham said: '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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