Motorway fireball: At least seven dead and 51 injured in horrific crash on M5 described as 'worst ever seen by emergency services'
- Police confirm at least seven people have been killed and several more have suffered life-changing injuries
- Death toll could rise as emergency services admit people may still be trapped in 'burnt and unrecognisable' vehicles
Updated: 11:20 GMT, 22 October 2012
At least seven people were killed and 51 injured in a horrific crash on the M5 motorway described by the emergency services today as one of the worst they have ever seen.
There are fears the death toll could soar even higher as police said they believe bodies may still be trapped in vehicles which have been left 'burnt and unrecognisable'. Emergency services will work through the night in a bid to search for more victims.
The smash on the northbound carriageway near Taunton, Somerset, involved 34 vehicles, including four lorries. Police said the vehicles were 'immediately alight' following the crash as a 'massive fireball' engulfed the carriageway.
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Seven dead: Police officers work to clear the scene of the accident. Senior officers said they fear there may yet be more fatalities
Officers confirmed that a fireworks display was going on at the nearby Taunton Rugby Club which witnesses said cast a pall of black smoke over the motorway carriages when the collision happened at 8.25pm last night.
'WE COULD HEAR THE SCREAMS OF THE LITTLE ONES IN THE CARS'
The Taunton Rugby Club's ground where the firework carnival was held is next to the M5 crash scene.
Thick black smoke was generated by the display and a nearby smallholding also had a large bonfire which was spreading black smoke.
Josie Gallimore, 60, and husband Brian, 61, who live near the accident scene walked Hyde Lane bridge which overlooks the motorway
Mrs Gallimore said: 'We didn't stay long because it was too disturbing. You could hear the cries of the little ones trapped in their cars.
'They had to remain in their cars with their families and apparently some were there for up to three and a half hours.
'I didn't sleep last night. I couldn't. It's a terrible tragedy.'
Speaking at the crash site, Avon and Somerset assistant chief constable Anthony Bangham said: 'This is an horrific scene. I can confirm it was a multi-vehicle collision that was declared as a major incident.
'I can say we have a got a mixture of heavy loaded vehicles and light vehicles. They been in close contact and they are burnt and unrecognisable. Sadly I we can now confirm seven people have died as a result of this incident. We fear that number will rise.
Our thoughts at this time are with the families of anyone who has lost their lives.
'A large scale multi-agency operation continues at the scene to remove vehicles, check that there are no other casualties and repair the carriageway.
'This is a hugely complex operation because of the scale of vehicles and people involved. All vehicles will need to be removed from the scene for forensic examination and this of course takes time.'
Mr Bangham confirmed police were probing the theory that the fireworks display distracted motorists. Police could not say whether the fireworks might have been a factor, but Mr Bangham said it was 'certainly something we'll be looking at closely'.
He added: 'There's a number of factors that came into play. It was dark, it was particularly poor weather last night, we had fog banks on the motorway and we also had wet surface issues.'
When quizzed over whether there were still further dead bodies at the crash scene, Mr Bangham said: 'Yes, I'm afraid there are. For a motorway incident this is just about as big as it gets.'
He praised the heroism of the emergency services and members of the public, who attempted to pull people from burning vehicles.
Mr Bangham said:'The intensity of the fire - it was a fireball on the carriageway - made it incredibly difficult for people to approach. 'People did their very best.'
Devastation: The wreckage of the horror crash on the M5 can be seen in this image on the left. The crash took place close to junction 25 of the motorway, right
Mangled: The vehicles destroyed by the fire which engulfed the motorway on Friday night after the multiple crash
Throughout yesterday police were still working to clear the scene near Taunton, Somerset, following the 34-vehicle crash. Officers fear they will still find further bodies