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Dozens injured in explosions at British fuel storage facility

HEMEL HEMPSTEAD, England—Massive explosions at one of Britain's largest fuel storage facilities shook an area north of London early Sunday, injuring 43 people.

The explosions, which occurred just after 6 a.m., sent up a smoke plume visible 50 miles away, shook windows 150 miles away and, according to media reports, were heard as far away as Holland. There were no reports of death, but two of people were described as seriously injured.

Police late Sunday said the explosions appeared to have been an industrial accident. "We have no reason to believe it's terrorism, but we haven't ruled anything out yet," said Hertfordshire Police spokesperson Katherine Liggatt.

The explosions took place about 20 miles from Luton, a London suburb where early July 7 four suicide bombers met before launching an attack on London's mass transit during the morning rush hour, killing themselves and 52 others.

Security officials have long feared that fuel depots could be attractive terror targets.

"We got blown out of bed," said nearby resident Martin White. "I really thought an aircraft had crash landed behind my house."

The facility is the fifth-largest fuel depot in the United Kingdom. The first tank to explode was believed to contain aviation fuel. Four others exploded during the course of the day, and firefighters worried that as many as 15 others still on fire as night fell might also explode. The fuel was stored for Total and Texaco among others, including area airports.

Officials hoped to use a foam concentrate collected from fire departments around the country and water from an area canal to smother the blaze.

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(Potts is a Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondent.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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