Four people were killed when a large explosion ripped through a waste water treatment works near Bristol.
At least one person was also injured in the blast, which is believed to have involved one of the chemical tanks at Wessex Water’s water recyling centre.
Eye-witnessses reported seeing “at least ten ambulances” rush to the scene along with police and fire crews from six different stations just after 11.20am on Thursday.
Three of the dead were employees of Wessex Water, Avon and Somerset police said. The fourth victim was a contractor.
The force’s Chief Inspector Mark Runacres said: “Specially trained officers have this afternoon made contact with each of the families of those individuals and informed them of the sad news.
“This is a tragic incident and our thoughts and sympathies go out to them.”
Confirmation that today's explosion in Avonmouth took place at Wessex Water’s water recycling centre pic.twitter.com/3rI7zxYXd7
— Martin Booth (@beardedjourno) December 3, 2020
Wessex Water chief executive Colin Skellett said: “We are absolutely devastated that the tragic incident at our site earlier today has resulted in four fatalities.
“Our thoughts are with the families, friends and colleagues of those involved.
“We are working with the Health and Safety Executive to understand what happened and why.”
In the aftermath of the blast, witness Jawad Burhan took a photo showing a tank that appeared to have exploded.
He said there was a “helicopter looking for missing people” and police had closed a nearby road leading up to the waste centre.
“I heard the sound, I’m working beside the building in another warehouse. After ten minutes I saw the helicopter coming and the police,” he said.
Luke Gazzard, from Avon Fire and Rescue Service, said the incident had been “very challenging” but that crews had been able to attend the scene quickly.
“Luckily our local fire station is not too far from here so we had crews in attendance very, very quickly and they were able to gain an element of situational awareness,” he said.
“Our initial crews attended within five minutes and in total we had six fire engines, a turntable ladder, urban search and rescue teams and two search and rescue dogs on scene.
“During the incident we located four casualties who unfortunately were confirmed as deceased.
“Our thoughts are with the families, friends and colleagues of all those affected in today’s incident.
“It is a terribly sad incident.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “our hearts go out” to the victims of the Avonmouth tragedy and their families.
“Deeply saddened to learn that four people have lost their lives in the water works explosion in Avonmouth,” he said on Twitter.
“Our hearts go out to the victims and their families.
“Thank you to the emergency services who attended the scene.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was “deeply concerned” at the reports.
Deeply saddened to learn that four people have lost their lives in the water works explosion in Avonmouth. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families.
Thank you to the emergency services who attended the scene.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 3, 2020
She wrote on Twitter: “My thoughts are with those affected and our brave emergency services working hard to resolve this incident.”
Bristol North West MP Darren Jones posted his thanks to staff from across the police, fire and ambulance services, writing: “Thank you as always for responding so quickly”.
US Ambassador to the UK Woody Johnson also shared his gratitude to workers at the scene.
He tweeted: “Thinking of everyone involved in the tragedy at Avonmouth today and thankful for the quick work of the emergency services.”
The centre, serving Bristol, is the biggest in the sewage treatment facility in the area, according to the Wessex Water website.