The blast has thrown months of pre-Christmas planning into jeopardy for some of Britain's biggest high-street names.
The worst affected is an internet-based fashion retailer called Asos, which cancelled Christmas for thousands of its customers yesterday. The retailer fears that stock worth £5.5m has been ruined at its only UK warehouse, which was on the Hemel Hempstead industrial estate close to from the scene of the explosions.
The headquarters of Dixons' parent, DSG International, and of the photocopy maker Xerox were among the ghost town of businesses standing empty. Police were standing guard last night, preventing executives from checking how much damage had been sustained. DSG, which also owns Currys, PC World and The Link, has relocated "key staff" to a nearby office in Stevenage. Xerox relocated half its 150-strong staff to its nearby Welwyn Garden City offices.
Nick Robertson, chief executive of Asos, said the company spent £600,000 building the warehouse on the Mayland Avenue industrial estate and moved in four months ago. The fashion retailer sells copy-cat celebrity styles and is growing at a rate of 80 per cent a year. Some 350,000 garments may have been destroyed.
At a distribution centre near the blast owned by Scottish & Newcastle, Britain's biggest brewer. bottles of wines and spirits worth some £10m were shattered by the explosions.