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Europe

Belgian Pipeline Explosion Kills at Least Ten

At least 10 people were killed and 100 injured when a high-pressure gas pipeline erupted Friday at an industrial estate in southern Belgium.

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The accident took place at an industrial park in Ghislenghien

Belgian authorities have rolled out a high-level disaster reaction plan as hundreds of firefighters and emergency service personnel converge on the scene of the explosion in Ath, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) southeast of Brussels. Officals said that by mid-afternoon at least 10 were dead and 100 injured, including 40 with serious burns who were being treated at specialist hospitals.

The spokesman, Karim Ibourki, said that construction workers had detected a gas leak on the Ghislenghien industrial estate at around 8:30 local time and that "when emergency services arrived, there was an explosion."

Thick flames

Explosion in Belgien

Huge flames are seen as fire rages at the scene of a violent gas explosion in Ghislenghien near Ath Friday, 30 July 2004

A nearby service station and two neighboring factories also ignited in the blast, which was reportedly felt several kilometers away.Television pictures showed thick sheets of flames billowing into the sky.

Residents were advised to stay inside with their windows and doors shut to keep out the heavy smoke, but the Health Ministry said it was not toxic and no evacuation was called for.

Rescue crew among casualties

An Interior Ministry spokeswoman said police and firefighters were among the casualties. "It was a high-pressure gas distribution pipeline which exploded. There are police and firefighters who were there who have been injured," she told AFP wires service.

Army units have been called in to help coordinate the disaster response, involving dozens of ambulances and six military hospitals, including a military hospital burn unit.

Authorities across the border in France have also offered to send ambulances and other emergency service vehicles to assist in the disaster relief and cleanup.

Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt announced he would break off his holiday in Italy to fly to the scene, the Belga news agency reported.