Eyewitness reports from Hemel Hempstead

 As firefighters extinguished the main blaze at the Hemel Hempstead fuel depot this afternoon, in the aftermath of Sunday's explosions, two parish priests from the area spoke about the past 48 hours. Fr Raymond Legge, parish priest at the church of Our Lady Queen of All Creation, which is located very near the depot, was woken by the first explosion. He said: "It was a terrible shock. I can't describe how loud it was. It felt like a bomb had dropped. The sound seemed to bounce up and down with terrific pressure. But the damage here was relatively minor. The church was covered in a fine dust. The vibration seemed to shake down years of incense from the ceiling. But what was most upsetting was seeing so many parishioners evacuated. Mass attendance on Sunday was down by 40 per cent. All day yesterday we had big lumps of foam dropping down from the sky on the church and the house. The environment people have been coming to clear it up and carry out tests for toxicity. "Everyone was told to stay indoors, and many streets are still cut off so we haven't got the whole story yet. But last night we had our ecumenical carol service which was well attended and made things feel more normal. It is miraculous that this happened when it did." Father John Byrne, parish priest at St Mary and St Joseph's, said that the explosion had brought out terrific community spirit among people. "Within minutes parishioners were out on bicycles checking on on those living alone to see they they were all right," he said. "Everyone has been getting in touch to offer help. "I think the shock began to set in yesterday as people realised how serious this could have been. What a blessing it was that the explosion took place at that hour." The blaze has meant that funerals and other services had to be postponed in the deanery. Many schools near the site are still closed.

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