Buncefield explosion victim in Redbourn: “I thought we would be killed”
- Credit: Photo supplied
Ten years after life was brought to a sudden standstill by a massive explosion at the Buncefield Oil Depot, neighbours still vividly recollect parts of their homes collapsing, and miraculously escaping with their lives.
Today marks the 10th anniversary of the largest blaze in peacetime Europe, which occurred in Hemel Hempstead at 6.02am on Sunday December 11, 2005.
On that day, a fuel vapour explosion equivalent to 30 tonnes of TNT at the depot triggered a blast wave which was heard as far away as the Netherlands.
Residents living in Redbourn Ward, about 400 metres from the terminal, have shared their experiences with the Herts Advertiser, and used the anniversary to warn St Albans district council against pursuing plans to allow 1,500 homes to be built in its vicinity.
David Mitchell, who is chairman of Redbourn parish council and lives in Lilly Lane, recalls: “I thought a passenger plane from Luton had crashed on top of the house. There was a deafening explosion.
“For about 30 seconds the house shook, and I could see the windows shaking. I thought ‘this is it, we are going to be killed’. I thought a plane had crashed on us, and expected its fuel tank to explode.
“I looked out the window, and expected to see a plane but what I saw was flames from Buncefield. They were enormous. It seemed to me there was a wall of fire, as far as I could see. My house is 400m away, and outside the official [safety] exclusion zone.
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“It affected me very badly. My son, who was nine at the time, could have been killed as it destroyed a wall in his room. He was in bed at the time, and crawled out through rubble. He was very lucky.
“It was terrifying. The ceiling came down, and he was covered in plaster. I was lying in bed at the time, and the whole house shook for 30 seconds because of the backdraft. My daughter’s room wasn’t as badly affected; she slept through it.
“I was really fearful for my family, so we, and all our neighbours, jumped in our vehicles and fled to a hotel. I remember hearing all the alarms going off everywhere. It was a huge relief that no-one was killed.”
David, who remembers being able to see the sky through holes pierced in the roof, said it was a stressful experience: “It was a horrific day. The house was a mess, wires were hanging down. The windows were sucked out. All the doors, and the ceiling, had to be replaced.”
He said his insurance company took care of the repairs, and “didn’t quibble about anything”.
David initially suffered the odd flashback as a result of the experience, when he would wake up assuming he had heard another explosion but would realise that it was completely quiet.
Asked about his thoughts on the 10th anniversary of the explosion, David replied: “I would rather forget about it. It is very vivid in my children’s minds, as their lives were disrupted. The biggest thing for me was that I thought my family had nearly died; we were suddenly made to feel very vulnerable.”
One of his neighbours, Graham Glover, whose house was also affected, said that while he and others were lucky to escape injury, St Albans council would be ‘nuts’ to pave the way for 1,500 homes, and several schools, proposed to be built near the depot.
The council has earmarked Crown Estate land for future development in the Green Belt in its Strategic Local Plan.
Graham said: “My house is 500 metres from Buncefield and it was badly damaged in the explosion. My front door ended up four metres into my house; all the ceilings came down, the back door and patio door were found in the garden, and the roof came off in places.”
As his was one of 10 local homes near the depot affected by the blast, Graham fears that “if this were to happen again, with 1,500 high density homes and schools in this area, the impact would be very high”.