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Fiery 34-car pile-up kills several, injures dozens

A huge crash involving 34 vehicles on a highway in southwest England killed several people and injured dozens, British authorities said Friday.
Image: Multiple Fatalities Feared In M5 27-Vehicle Pile-Up
Emergency services continue to attend the scene of a multiple fatal collision near Junction 25 on the M5 motorway on Saturday near Taunton, England. Matt Cardy / Getty Images
/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

A huge crash involving 34 vehicles on a highway in southwestern England killed at least seven people and injured 51, British police said Saturday.

The crash on Friday night involved explosions, and cars and tractor trailers burning "literally to the ground," Assistant Chief Constable Anthony Bangham told reporters. Police expect the death toll to rise and they fear they may find more bodies in the wreckage, Bangham said.

Video footage shown on British news channels showed large balls of fire consuming trucks, and billowing smoke at the scene.

It was not immediately clear what caused the collision on the M5 highway, but police said foggy conditions and wet road surfaces were partly to blame. Road accidents of this scale are rare in Britain, and rescuers have described the pile-up as one of the worst in living memory.

BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT \"AFP PHOTO / AVON AND SOMERSET POLICE\" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - NO ARCHIVE A handout picture taken on November 4, 2011 and released on November 5, 2011 by the Avon and Somerset Police shows a fire caused a massive crash on the M5 motorway near Taunton, southwest England. A 27-vehicle pile-up on a British motorway sparked explosions and an inferno, leaving several people dead and around 35 injured, police and eyewitnesses said today. Around 50 firefighters battled to free people who were trapped in the wreckage of their vehicles on the northbound carriageway, and police said a long stretch of the major route was closed and would not reopen for 24 hours. AFP PHOTO / AVON AND SOMERSET POLICE (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)- / AFP

The affected section of the busy highway has been closed in both directions as police remove all vehicles for forensic examination. The highway will not be reopened until Sunday at the earliest, police said.

Paul Slaven, a fire department official from the region, told the BBC earlier that the pile-up Friday evening on the M5 highway involved 20 cars and six trucks. He said the incident was the "worst road traffic collision anyone can remember" in the area.

Police said a section of the M5 highway would remain closed for at least 24 hours, and released a hotline number for people concerned about friends or family who may have been involved in the accident.

Tom Hamill, of Wells, who witnessed the accident, told BBC: "I'd slowed right down and had veered into the central reservation and I think that saved our lives — the fog lifted and I saw utter carnage.

"The thing that made me realize how bad it was, was you could hear the thud of cars hitting into lorries: One car overtook us going at about 60 or 70 miles an hour and just crashed straight into a lorry.

"I could hear people screaming and shouting. One woman who was carrying a baby and child was desperate — I helped the child over the central reservation and we all just tried to get as far away from the fire as possible."