Expatica news

Belgium mourns victims of fatal gas explosion

4 August 2004

BRUSSELS – Belgium on Wednesday observed a national day  of mourning for the victims of the massive gas explosion that ripped through an industrial estate near the town of Ath last Friday.

The death toll from the blast has now risen to 18, following the discovery on Tuesday evening of another body in the wreckage of a building destroyed by the explosion.

Acts of remembrance were held across the country on Wednesday but the biggest event was a memorial in the Saint Julien church in Ath.

Belgium’s Prince Philippe and Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt both attended the event, which was broadcast live on national television.

As a mark of respect for the blast’s victims, flags flew at half mast across Belgium on Wednesday and all public festivals and sporting events were cancelled.

Seven of the eighteen victims – five firemen, a policeman and a technician for state electricity company Electrabel – were posthumously awared Civic Crosses on Wednesday morning.

The Civic Cross is the highest award for bravery a Belgian civilian can receive.

After the awards were given, the mens’ coffins were carried in a sombre procession to the memorial serivce in the St Julien church.

During the memorial mass Belgian Interior Minister Patrick Dewael paid tribute to the courage of the fire fighters who were killed in the blast.

“They know that danger often lies in wait, that death sometimes lurks,” he said.

“Not only the residents of Ath but the entire country has been struck by this tragedy,” the Minister added.

But even as the day of mourning got underway, questions were already being asked about how the blast could have happened.

At present no official cause for the catastrophe has been established.

But some Belgian media report building work may have damaged the high pressure gas pipeline that that exploded on Friday with such devastating effect.

Other critics are asking why people were not evacuated from the site in the more than thirty minutes that elapsed between the discovery of a gas leak at the industrial estate and the fatal explosion.

[Copyright EXpatica 2004]

Subject: Belgian news