The grieving widow of one of four workers killed in an explosion at a waste water treatment plant says her son narrowly missed the blast.
Brian Vickery, 63, had worked for Wessex Water for 42 years and was nearing retirement when he died in the blast in Avonmouth, near Bristol, on Thursday morning.
Mr Vickery and three others were on top of a chemical tank that one witness said exploded like a “bomb”. One of four workers was thrown 150 metres (500 feet) into a lake, it is claimed.
Speaking on her doorstep in Clevedon, Somerset, on Friday, Mr Vickery’s devastated wife Jane said their son could have died in the blast but had a day off.
She said: “Brian had worked there for 42 years. Our son works there but had a day off yesterday.
“If he had been there he’d be dead too. We didn’t hear anything for about five hours after it happened.”
Three employees of Wessex Water and a contractor were working on top of the chemical tank at a water recycling centre when the blast occurred just after 11am on Thursday.
A fifth person survived with non-life-threatening injuries.
Heartbroken colleagues have been paying tribute online to the four men who died, and mourners have been leaving flowers and cards at a memorial at the site as the investigation into the cause continues.
One of the notes, left for Mr Vickery, read: “Thinking of my workmates and good friend Brian – love Les, Jayne and family.”
The explosion happened in a silo that held treated biosolids before they are recycled to land as an organic soil conditioner.
A source said: “A silo blew up as the men were working on it.
“They have been looking for the bodies and found one 150 metres (500 feet) away in a lake.
“There are four dead and one injured who could walk away from the scene.”
The survivor’s injuries were not believed to be life-threatening. Urban search and rescue teams helped to locate the bodies of the dead.
Witnesses said the explosion was like a “bomb” and shook buildings in the industrial area.
One eyewitness at the nearby Geneco plant said: “They didn’t stand a chance.”
Fire crews described a “very challenging” scene and employed search and rescue dogs in the hunt for casualties following the blast at about 11.20am.
One witness to the aftermath described hearing a “boom and echo” which shook the ground, followed by “a lot of commotion”.
Sean Nolan said: “It was quite short-lived, I’d say about two or three seconds. Sort of a boom and echo and then it just went quiet.
“That was it. There was no smoke, there was no after-effects of it.”
Kieran Jenkins, who had been working nearby, said he and a colleague had seen people running from the scene.
“We were inside the warehouse, the whole warehouse was shaking and we literally stood there in shock,” he said.
Wessex Water chief executive Colin Skellett said the company was “absolutely devastated” by the incident, and said it would be working with the Health and Safety Executive “to understand what happened and why”.
Chief Inspector Mark Runacres, of Avon and Somerset Police, said: “A thorough investigation will be carried out into what happened, involving a number of agencies and the Health and Safety Executive in due course and we will not be speculating on the cause of the investigation while such work is being undertaken.”
He added the incident is not being treated as terror-related and there are not thought to be any ongoing public safety concerns.
Bristol City Mayor Marvin Rees said the “thoughts of our city” were with the families of those who had died.
“This has already been such a challenging year, and this news of further loss of life is another terrible blow. As a city we will mourn for them,” he added.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “our hearts go out” to the victims and their families, while Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also offered his condolences.
GMB, the union for Wessex Water workers, said it is supporting all members and their families caught up in the tragedy.
John Phillips, GMB regional secretary, said: “This is a terrible tragedy, and our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of those who have been injured or killed.
“GMB will provide all necessary support to those members and their families affected by this incident.
“This is another stark reminder of the absolute need to ensure people are able to work in environments where risks to their health and safety are properly controlled.
“Whilst the cause of this tragedy is not yet known, it is essential that a full and thorough investigation takes place at the appropriate time.”
Unite’s regional secretary for the south west, Steve Preddy, said: “We can confirm that Unite has three members working at Wessex Water Services Ltd in Avonmouth.
“We have contacted them and they are, thankfully, uninjured, although in a state of shock.
“Unite will be giving our members maximum support in the days and weeks ahead.
“Unite the union would wish to extend its deepest sympathy to the families of those employees who have lost their lives and as well as those injured in the explosion – our thoughts and solidarity are with all those affected by this tragic event.”
The Church of England says it is also “leading the nation’s prayers” for victims of the explosion.
A statement posted to the Church of England Twitter page said: “We join together to pray for the people of Avonmouth.”
Darren Jones, MP for Bristol North West, has said: “My family and I are keeping those affected in our thoughts and prayers today.
“Can I thank the emergency services – including Avon and Somerset Police, the South West Ambulance Service and Avon Fire & Rescue – for their responsiveness and support.
“There will be a full investigation taking place but, for now, we pay our respects to those who have suffered and lost their lives today.”