Glasgow factory blast toll rises to seven

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The Independent Online

Brick by brick, rescuers today continued to comb through the debris of a factory explosion in Glasgow last night, after the blast killed at least seven people and injured more than 40 others.

Brick by brick, rescuers today continued to comb through the debris of a factory explosion in Glasgow last night, after the blast killed at least seven people and injured more than 40 others.

Using fibre-optic cameras, specialist sound locators, carbon-dioxide indicators and sniffer dogs, more than 200 rescuers were in a race to save anyone still buried under the rubble.

Seven people were rescued throughout yesterday. A woman was pulled out at 9pm with serious injuries after plunging from the third floor to the ground floor. She had been found in "distressing circumstances" after more than six hours of searching, Strathclyde Firemaster Brian Sweeney said.

A spokeswoman for Strathclyde police said: "A number of people are unaccounted for and efforts continue to trace them."

Just after noon yesterday an explosion ­ possibly in one of four furnaces used on the ground floor of the four-storey building of Stockline Plastics in the Maryhill area of Glasgow ­ ripped through the site, causing the redbrick workshop and office complex to crumple.

Injured workers were seen running screaming from the building. A cloud of dust filled the sky and the force of the explosion, which was felt up to three miles away, sent debris flying into the surrounding area.

More than two-thirds of the building collapsed, trapping a number of the company's 60 staff inside. Some had been attending a management meeting on the top floor. Police said three people died at the scene while a woman died in the city's Western Infirmary. A police spokeswoman said more than 40 people were taken to hospital, of whom 17 were in a serious condition, and the remainder were "walking wounded". Some firefighters were being treated for heat exhaustion.

Alarmingly last night, the fire service said it was no longer in contact with anyone trapped under the rubble but that the second phase of the rescue was under way.

"We still think there may be people in there alive and as long as we still think that we will still keep working," Mr Sweeney said. "As long as we feel there is a possibility that someone can be rescued this remains a rescue operation not a recovery operation."

He said it would be "unprofessional" to speculate on the number of people who were still in the debris.

Earlier, eyewitnesses told of their shock at the explosion, which knocked people outside over. "There was a massive explosion, like a bomb going off, which nearly shook me off my seat," said Gerry McGuinness, 44, a technician who was working near by.

"I ran out into the street to see what had happened and there was a huge cloud of dust. Along with some other people, I started trying to dig some of the bricks away. There were four guys and one girl trapped under the rubble. We couldn't see them but they were screaming for us to help them.

"We couldn't get to them, it was too dangerous. When the fire brigade arrived, they took over. It's a miracle anyone survived."

Stephen Anthony was working in a Jaguar garage across the road from the factory when the blast happened. "The explosion blew some of the tiles off our roof. I tried to help some of the injured, but when the fire brigade arrived I was told to stand clear. I could hear people screaming underneath the rubble. It was horrible."

All around the scene survivors, many of them with breathing difficulties because of the dust, were being taken into a fleet of ambulances. Five local hospitals took in patients. Many were suffering from broken bones, lacerations and shock.

Daniel Gilmore, who was working on the ground floor when the explosion happened, said he had been lucky to escape alive as the blast tore a hole through the brickwork. With his head heavily bandaged and blood spattered across his face and neck, Mr Gilmore said he and a friend managed to crawl out just as the building collapsed.

"All of a sudden, there was a wee hole in the wall where the explosion had been," he said. "I just tried to grab hold of Jimmy and we just sort of held hands and moved our weight towards the hole in the wall."

His colleague David Andrews, 50, was working on the other side of the factory when the blast took place.

"It was mostly office workers in the bit that came down. I heard an almighty bang and I ran out. I couldn't see anything for dust," he said.

"I was trying to help pull people from the rubble. All my colleagues were lying on the ground with cuts and bruises to their heads and broken arms. The whole lot just came down on top of them."

Mr Andrews believed the explosion may have been connected with gas ovens in the coating department of the factory.

It took another three hours after the building collapsed before firefighters, using cutting and lifting equipment, managed to pull the first buried survivor from the wreckage.

Placed on a stretcher and wrapped in blankets, the unnamed victim, whose face was covered with an oxygen mask, was passed along a line of rescuers to paramedics who had set up an emergency triage centre in inflatable tents next to the factory.

In his initial assessment, Mr Sweeney likened the incident to an earthquake scene and said operations to free those still trapped could take up to 48 hours.

As lighting equipment was moved into place to enable rescuers to work through the night in shifts of 30, he said: "This is a painstaking process. Many people will be familiar with earthquake procedures in Turkey and Afghanistan. What we have here is similar to that.

"A great deal of delicate and difficult work has to be done to make the building safe, or more of the rubble could come crashing down. We think we will be here for a long time ­ for a minimum of 48 hours in a rescue capacity," Mr Sweeney added.

During the day firefighters spoke to at least five people under the rubble. Two people had made contact by mobile phone ­ one phoned the emergency services and the other a national newspaper ­ one they could see through a special camera and a fourth person could be heard with the listening devices.

Mr Sweeney said: "We're focusing on those people who are alive. And let's get them out alive. They're in various states of ability to talk, so we are ... trying to comfort and reassure them."

By yesterday evening, volunteers from the International Rescue Corps had been flown from their base in the north of England to help, and an RAF Sea King rescue helicopter from Leconfield in North Yorkshire brought dog teams and handlers to the site.

"We are responding to a request from Strathclyde Fire Brigade to pick up the teams and we will get there as fast as possible," said a spokesman at the RAF rescue centre at Kinloss in the north of Scotland.

Less than half a mile from the scene of the incident, relatives and friends of factory workers were being comforted by counsellors and support staff in a community centre.

One woman, who was waiting for news of her daughter, said: "There's a lot of people in shock, just crying and praying."

Almost too upset to speak, she said relatives had been told it could be a long time before they heard anything, but not to give up hope.

Gary Gentels, the facilities manager at the community centre, said: "We are getting relatives coming down here but we don't know much at the moment.

"All we can offer is tea, sympathy and a shoulder to cry on. There are women with children in there who are waiting for news of their husbands, and there are men who work in the factory waiting to hear about their friends.

"A lot of people have started bringing things in for the families. The community will rally around and look after their own.

"A lot of the people in the factory probably live locally. It is a very close-knit community and this will hit pretty hard."

John Alexander, 27, who should have been working in the factory but had taken the morning off to take his eight-year-old daughter Caitlin to the dentist, was shocked and relieved when he heard of the blast.

"I found out about it from my mum. She called me and she was hysterical, asking how I was doing," he said. "She'd heard it on the news. She said, 'Your work has blown up'. She thought I was in it," Mr Alexander said.

"When I got here, I saw a few of my colleagues, all with cuts and bruises. The worst one had a broken shoulder and lacerations to his head. All of them were in shock. I feel very, very lucky, considering all my mates are in hospital."

A doctor treating survivors at the Western Infirmary described the explosion as one of the most serious incidents he had dealt with. Willie Tullett, an accident and emergency consultant said: "We are still treating casualties and we still believe there are a significant number of casualties to come.They've sustained crush injuries, soft-tissue injuries and fractures."