Belgium: explosion kills 14, wounds 60

CNN is reporting 10 (correction, they've changed it into 14 now) dead in an explosion of an underground gasline south of Brussels. National radio is reporting 14 dead, the De Morgen newspaper (see under 'Gasexplosie Gellingen', they don't like being hyperlinked) also reports 60 wounded. Gazet van Antwerpen has more. The images on screen look dramatic, let us hope that flame is not the gas itself that keeps burning.

At this moment, everyone seems to be sure the fire originated due to the gasline being punctured during works.

The location of the accident is not as close to Brussels as CNN would like you to think, here's a map ('Ghislenghien' is the French name for the village, as opposed to the Dutch one).

Update: BBC-link. On a further note, this may not be terrorism but it may turn out as a test to see how well firefighters, ambulances and other local authorities can react to possible threats or major incidents. There has already been more than one medic saying they were too late on the location of the accident.

Update2: De Morgen now reports 100 wounded, of which 24 are seriously injured. All 14 casualties were firefighters.

Update3: national television is reporting 15 dead now. The army has been called upon. The fire seems to be under control, but in a wide area all cars and factories are completely destroyed.

Update4, 13:29 CET local time: 'Fase 3' of the civil emergencies plan was already announced in the morning, which meant the provincial governor is put in charge. France is also standing ready to help out or is already helping. A central phonenumber has now been announced on television (please contact local embassies, putting this number up on a blog would most probably attract unwelcome callers).

Update5: you may be wondering why there were no earlier reports on all of this. Personally, I must admit to be more up-to-date on international affairs as opposed to national ones. First report I saw was at about noon today, 11.00 AM GMT, and the De Morgen site, which has a relatively fast telex-system (in relation to other Belgium services), shows its first message at 11.48 AM GMT. More interestingly, most of the newschannels, including BBC, say the explosion occured somewhere between 7.00 and 7.30 AM, or 8.00 and 8.30 AM local time, while Fluxys, the owner of the pipeline says it occured at about 9.00 AM local time,  half an hour later after they were informed about the leak itself:

Incident te Ghislenghien
Deze ochtend omstreeks 8u30 heeft de dienst 100 de maatschappij Fluxys op de hoogte gebracht van een lek op de aardgastransportleiding tussen Zeebrugge en de Franse grens. Een halfuur later volgde een ontploffing. Het incident vond plaats te Ghislenghien in een nieuwe industriezone.
[italics mine, this is the part that says 'half an hour later']

Update6: national television has put up aerial videoshoots of the place where the leak and the subsequent explosion took place,  together with eyewitness reports (you will not immediately arrive on the right page, first locate the text 'Ga verder' on the bottom of the page and click it). Until now, they are the only ones who have reported the number of 15 dead. Some sort of electrical powerplant seems to have been located as close as 10 meters to the leak.

Update7: private television channel VTM also reports 15 dead, together with 200 wounded of which 24 seriously burned. Several sources appear to say the list of casualties will go up, which wouldn't be surprising considering the area that was affected due to the air displacement and the heat radiation (said to be 500 meters wide, reports even mention truckdrivers, on a nearby highway, with  severe burns). De Morgen now reports medical and technical assistance is coming from France, among which 5 doctors.

Update8: national television VRT reported half an hour ago that the situation was under control. Fires on the ground have been put out and there is no more danger for the people working there. The same VRT also changed the number of victims back to 14 on their site.  Reuters has raw footage (probably the aerial shoot mentioned before, uncut). More news is expected around 17.00PM GMT, the time that Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt is expected to return from his holiday to arrive at the scene.

Update9: ... count has been brought back to 10 dead, 97 wounded, of whom about 40 are severely injured. Who said anything about the credibility of tradtional media changing facts 10 times in a timespan of less than 10 hours?

Pope John-Paul II and Dutch Prime Minister Balkenende have sent their condolences.

According to this article, aid was received from medical services as far as Lille (North of France). A total of 61 ambulances, 10 MUG's (Mobile Urgency Units), 4 French helicopters, 6 Belgian army helicopters and 1 private helicopter took part in the operation. They served 5 intervention teams, 1 medical post, and 1 command post.

Update10: this is turning into a lesson on how to read "classical media". The link in the previous update pointed to an article mentioning new numbers in casualties. Guess what? They've changed it again, without any mention of correction whatsoever, not even the URL was changed. This blog is going to let the established media cook in its own fat for a while, I'll start a new post later. (Six o'clock VRT television news at this moment is starting out with "at least 15" casualties again, where they too changed their numbers a few times during the day. An anchor on scene mentions "at least 10" five minutes later. Duh.)

Update11, 23.55PM GMT: a few final notes before the end of a moving day, next week the regular dayjob starts again and it's still a nice summer evening outside.

Casualty figures still keep going up and down. Are they that important? For future reference they might very well be. The images taken after the explosion are very intriguing (Via Ine over at Monuments. The site has most of the pictures that you will find on other sites. They're copyrighted but those are the only ones that will give you an overall view of the situation on the ground. Much of what was sent out today was either unclear, blurry, or simply for people feeling comfortable when tunnelviewing things).

Did you know these distribution lines run in pairs? They are burried just 1 meter under the surface, and are running parallel to each other with a distance of only seven meters between them (see this picture for example, the black line on the left is the tube that was still active when the first had already blown up, according to Fluxys' spokeswoman. It was only later that it was shut down as well). The pressure inside is 80 times more than the outside atmospheric pressure, 80bar or 80atm. Contrary to polular belief, the 'gas' inside is in a liquid state. One can only imagine what must have happened on those very few minutes. Notice the patterns in the fields too, as if this highly flammable liquid was sprayed up in the sky, only to fall down in a blaze and scorch the earth beneath it.

According to medicals specialised in treating severely burned victims, a lot of the people wounded have burns on the backs of their bodies, as if they were warned and were trying to run away.

Why all these numbers, all these details? Again, are they important?

It seems clear enough this was not a terrorist attack, but with one of Al Qaeda's own little friends purportedly sending out messages against Europe today, would it have been unimaginable? Luck sometimes comes in strange ways.

12:46 Gepost door Flint | Permalink | Commentaren (2) |  Facebook |


Ghislenghien I was working this morning in Flobecq/Vloesberg when I heard about it from my client. When I got back to my hometown at about 12.30, my van got stuck up in a traffic jam at the roundabout in Lessines, just north of Ghislenghien. As I was waiting to get onto it some semi-official van with the word "Rescue Dogs" passed, headed for the disaster zone. It was kind of weird to see the driver calmly enter the roundabout and respectably wait for his turn to leave it. No haste, no siren, just like an ordinary car. Was kind of strange.

Gepost door: Michael Cosyns | 30-07-04

Saw the dog yes, only for a fraction of a second in the corner of an image. I suspect the area had been cleared out already on a very early stage. Aside of the normal procedures (triage and such), I think not too many people were given the chance to collect sensitive, graphic images. There's two sides to everything.

By the time you saw that canine division, I don't think they were thinking of saving a lot of people out of a combustion like the one we saw. Terryfying.

Let us hope the best for the survivors ... .

Gepost door: Flint | 31-07-04

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