Avonmouth explosion: Four dead and one injured after waste water plant blast

3 December 2020, 13:03 | Updated: 3 December 2020, 20:27

By Megan White

Four people were killed and another injured in a "large explosion" at a waste water treatment works in Avonmouth.

Emergency services were called to Wessex Water's Bristol water recycling centre around 11.22am on Thursday.

A rescue operation was led by the fire service involving six appliances, a turntable crew and search and rescue crews.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid tribute to those who lost their lives, writing: "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."

Chief Inspector Mark Runacres from Avon and Somerset Police said inquiries were under way into what caused the explosion, which is believed to have involved a chemical tank which contained biosolids.

He told a press conference at the scene that three employees of Wessex Water and one contractor died in the incident.

The explosion is believed to have involved a chemical tank
The explosion is believed to have involved a chemical tank. Picture: PA

Mr Runacres said: "Emergency services were called at approximately 11.20am to reports of a large explosion involving one of the chemical tanks at the site off Kings Weston Lane.

"The fire service led the rescue operation but sadly, despite the best efforts of all those involved, we can confirm there have been four fatalities. This includes three employees of Wessex Water and one contractor.

"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."

Mr Runacres said authorities would not be speculating into the cause of the explosion - but he added it was not being treated as a terror-related incident.

"A fifth person was also injured but their injuries are not believed to be life-threatening," he told the press conference at the scene.

There is a heavy emergency response at the scene near Bristol
There is a heavy emergency response at the scene near Bristol. Picture: LBC

"A thorough investigation will be carried out into what happened today, involving a number of agencies and the Health and Safety executive in due course, and we will not be speculating on the cause of the explosion while such work is being undertaken.

"I can confirm though that this is not being treated as a terror-related incident."

Mr Runacres said there are currently no public safety concerns following the explosion.

"The explosion happened in a silo that holds treated biosolids before it is recycled to land as an organic soil conditioner," he said.

"I can reassure people in the nearby area there is not believed to be any ongoing public safety concerns following today's events.

"We do, however, urge members of the public to avoid the area if possible, whilst this emergency operation is ongoing."

Smoke was seen from a nearby motorway
Smoke was seen from a nearby motorway. Picture: Highways England

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."

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.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also gave his condolences on Twitter, writing: "My thoughts are with all those who tragically lost their lives today in Avonmouth. My heart goes out to their friends and family.

"Thank you to our emergency services for all their work."

Bristol City mayor, Marvin Rees, said: "As you will have heard, a major incident has been declared at Wessex Water's water recycling centre in Avonmouth.

"Tragically, four people who were working at the site have lost their lives, and the thoughts of our city is with their families at this heartbreaking time.

"This has already been such a challenging year, and this news of further loss of life is another terrible blow. As a city we will mourn for them.

"Local residents may be concerned about safety in the area. Wessex Water, police and fire have assured us the incident is contained, and there is no risk to your safety.

"However we would urge you to keep roads around the site as clear as possible so our emergency teams can do their vital work.

"Thank you to the emergency services for doing their very best in challenging circumstances."