Six months on, residents still wait for answers and action

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The Independent Online

In the streets of Hemel Hempstead, they call it "Britain's forgotten disaster", just six months after the biggest fire in post-war Europe laid waste to the Buncefield oil depot. Today, no one works on the site except demolition crews. Nobody knows whether it will be used for storage again. In Hertfordshire, they are still waiting for answers, and action.

On Tuesday, residents will be told what caused the explosion that set off the blaze, when the Health and Safety Executive publishes its third report on the disaster. But knowing why is hardly going to resolve the anxieties of those who are still unable to return to their wrecked homes. Like many others, they wonder why the HSE has been put in charge of this inquiry, when it was that same body which inspected the site shortly before the explosion and found nothing wrong.

For Carl and Heidi Brazier, it was not just a question of being woken by a terrifying noise to find their house wrecked. They had to find somewhere else to live, not easy for a family of two adults and seven children aged between one and 16. They spent just over two months in the Holiday Inn, then moved to a temporary home. They have just recently been allowed back in their old home in Leverstock Green.

"I cannot describe how loud that bang was that woke us up," Mrs Brazier said. "Everybody jumped out of bed. Our initial thought was that a plane had come down.

"Our gable end was wrecked. The front door and back door were damaged. Every room in the house had damage. Two windows were ripped open. Others were smashed or buckled. In the utility room, we found a gap in the wall behind the fridge big enough to put a hand through."

The fire caused so much damage to surrounding buildings that there are still business premises standing empty where 4,000 were employed. Officially, the Government says fewer than 100 people have lost their jobs because of the fire, but the real figure may be higher.

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