Questions raised after Belgian gas blast
3 August 2004
BRUSSELS – Over 30 minutes elapsed between the reporting of a gas leak near the Belgian town of Ath last Friday and the massive explosion that killed 17 people, it was reported on Tuesday.
As Belgium mourns the victims of the gas blast, which injured over 100 people, questions are now being raised as to why this 37-minute period of grace was not used to evacuate workers from the site.
According to a survivor, workers at the industrial estate in Ghislenghien, near Ath, where the explosion took place, were told before 8.30am that a gas leak had been discovered but no moves were made to evacuate them.
The fireball erupted at 8.55am, flattening factory buildings and creating scenes eyewitnesses said resembled a war zone.
Investigators are still at the site looking for clues as to what caused the explosion on the pipeline, which carries gas from Zeebrugge to Northern France.
Although the Belgian authorities say it is too early to draw conclusions, the discovery of sections of the pipe that appear to have exterior damage has fuelled speculation that nearby construction work may have caused a fatal weakness.
Heavy construction work was taking place at a neighbouring diamond-cutting factory, Diamant Boart, until 16 July.
According to one theory, the damage accidentally inflicted on the pipe could have caused it to rupture last Friday when the gas flow was at an unusual high of 90 percent of capacity.
Fluxys, the company managing Belgium’s underground gas network, has maintained since the tragedy that it conformed to all safety regulations and that the accident must have been sparked by an outside cause.
Examining magistrate, Gerard Bresoux, has currently placed two experts at the site of the tragedy to investigate further.
Meanwhile, estimates of the cost of the damage caused by the blast have risen to over EUR 100 million, according to insurance firm Assuralia.
A number of insurance companies are handling the dossier because of its size and complexity, reports De Tijd.
But the insurance claim could take some time to process while the cause of the blast remains uncertain.
Financial aid will, however, be made available to the victims and their families through an appeal fund set up by daily newspaper La Derniere Heure and supermarket chain Carrefour.
Donations can be made through a specially designated bank account:
“Solidarite Ghislenghien: 310-1802431-63” or through the Happy Days card in use at Carrefour and Super-GB stores.
The closing date for the appeal is 14 August.
[Copyright Expatica 2004]
Subject: Belgian news