At least six people died and a further eight were seriously hurt last night in a "horrific" motorway pile-up involving 26 cars and lorries in wet and foggy conditions.
Four people had to be cut out of the wreckage on the M5 and four vehicles, two of them lorries, burst into flames and were still burning long after the emergency services reached the scene.
More than 50 people were hurt in the crash close to junction 25 of the northbound carriageway of the M5 near Taunton in Somerset, with 41 hospitalised. A further 13 were treated at the scene. The motorway has been closed to traffic between junctions 23 to 26 and is expected to remain shut in both directions until at least this evening.
Although official confirmation of the death toll had not been given, Avon and Somerset Police said: "It is believed that people have lost their lives."
Paul Slaven, of Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue, said it was the "worst crash" anyone at the brigade could remember, adding: "I certainly can't recall a motor collision of this magnitude involving this many casualties." Poor weather conditions have been cited as a likely factor in the crash, though the precise cause was being investigated.
The motorway was also busy because the Bridgewater Guy Fawkes Carnival was taking place.
There were extensive tailbacks after the crash and the wreckage was so extensive that 15 fire engines were sent to the scene to help rescue motorists and put out the flames fuelled by exploding petrol tanks.
Chief Inspector Paul Mogg said: "All emergency services are on the scene doing as much as they can to continue the rescue operation and to treat those who are injured. There are large tailbacks at present and we would urge all to avoid the area for the next 24 hours at least."
The Highways Agency said part of the southbound carriageway had been reopened, but the motorway remained shut in both directions between junctions 24 and 25.
Police have launched an emergency number for members of the public who have "genuine fear" for the welfare of a friend or loved one.
Mr Bangham said: "Before you call this number please make all attempts to contact them via mobile phones or via friends, family or by any other usual measures.
"If this fails and you still remain concerned please call 0800 092 0410."Reuse content