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Twenty-six hurt in oil refinery blasts: Storms and heatwaves take their toll

TWENTY-SIX people were injured when a massive fire and a series of explosions rocked an oil refinery yesterday after it was struck by lightning.

About 130 firefighters tackled flames 100ft high after an explosion heard 10 miles away hit the Texaco plant at Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire. They were pulled back last night because of fear of further explosions, while Texaco said the fire was to be allowed to burn itself out 'in a controlled manner'.

Houses shook and windows were smashed across the Cleddau estuary after the first blast, at about 1pm, in a crude- oil processing unit which was earlier struck by lightning, causing a small fire. Lightning also started fires at the nearby Elf and Gulf refineries. The injuries were described as 'cuts and bruises'.

Texaco said the blast could be connected with earlier damage caused by lightning.

Wales was the worst hit, as weather extremes hit the whole of Britain. Rhyl in Clwyd was flooded yesterday after being hit by storms and torrential rain.

A bus conductor was hit by lightning in a garage at Pembroke Docks and an oil refinery worker was struck when he answered the telephone in Maiden Wells. Neither was seriously hurt.

Elsewhere, pests were drawn by the high temperatures. Marine visitors included weaver fish, which cause painful stings when trodden on, 13ft sunfish which alarm bathers by a close resemblance to sharks, and poisonous Portuguese man o' war jellyfish.

One victim was four-year- old Barney Linsen, who stepped on a weaver fish lying buried on the beach in Bournemouth on Saturday.

Elsewhere, a blanket of 'thunderflies' - also known as thrips - buzzed in from France to terrorise the south of England, feasting on crops and settling in the hair of the unwary to cause itching.

Plant experts warned that the hot summer had created the ideal breeding conditions for ragwort, a bright yellow weed which can cause liver damage and death to ponies and horses.

British Rail also had problems with the wrong kind of train heater. Some systems on old rolling stock have gone into reverse, pumping hot air into carriages instead of cold on Birmingham's Cross-City line.

In Oxford, a 21-year-old man drowned while trying to cool off by swimming in the Thames Conservancy pit near Pear Tree roundabout.

Oxford city centre was hit by flooding last night after violent rainstorms. Fire crews received 115 emergency calls in an hour.