A 27-vehicle pile-up on a British motorway sparked explosions and an inferno, leaving several people dead and 43 injured, police said Saturday.
Television pictures showed a line of cars and trucks engulfed in flames following the massive crash at around 2030 GMT Friday on the M5 motorway near Taunton, southwest England.
Blazing trucks fell onto their sides and people desperately tried to prise open the doors of cars to help trapped motorists escape in chaotic scenes after the crash, which happened in foggy and wet conditions.
Witnesses said they heard explosions as vehicles went up in flames and saw debris and casualties strewn across the road.
Around 50 firefighters battled to free people who were trapped in the wreckage of their vehicles on the northbound carriageway. A long stretch of the primary route through England’s southwest remained closed.
Assistant Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, of Avon and Somerset Police, said “several people” lost their lives in the crash but did not give a precise figure.
“The officers and the other emergency services faced a very, very difficult scene when they arrived,” he told the BBC.
“Many vehicles were on fire and the collision itself involved what we believe to be about 27 vehicles, both lorries and cars.
“So they were faced with virtually all of them on fire. Many of them have burnt literally to the ground.”
Edmund King, president of the Automobile Association, said it was Britain’s worst traffic accident in two decades, saying the last comparable incident was a 51-car crash on the M4 motorway in March 1991.
Hospitals said the injuries ranged from simple limb fractures to more complex chest and abdominal trauma.
Local resident Bev Davis described seeing a wall of flames at the crash site 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 said.
“There must have been 200 meters (660 feet) worth of fire – plumes of smoke were going up and everything was red.”
Motorist Paul O’Connor described the scene as “horrific.”
“It was quite horrific and I have never seen anything like that – I could see people lying on the side of the road,” he told Sky News television. “It was quite disturbing.”
Jon Adair said on Twitter: “Worst traffic accident I’ve ever seen on the M5 near Taunton. Burning vehicles & casualties/debris strewn across road.”
Jason Sharp, who witnessed the accident from a nearby rugby club, told the BBC that he heard a number of explosions.
“Petrol tanks I believe were going up – black smoke going up,” he said.
He said there was heavy fog and the roads were wet at the time of the crash.
Paul Slaven, of Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, said the fierce fire was likely caused by the number and type of vehicles and he had no indication they were carrying any toxic or chemical material.
“At least two of the vehicles on fire were articulated lorries and there would be a lot of fuel on them,” he said.
He added the fires had been put out after several hours but emergency services were still at the scene early Saturday trying to clear the carriageway.
The section of motorway is not expected to reopen before 2100 GMT.