Heartbreak hotel

Fourteen months after the Buncefield oil inferno, one family is still homeless. Schooling for them and others is badly disrupted

carrie brazier returns from school each day to a hotel room that has been her home for 14 months. She sits on a bed and attempts to do her homework.

Her supper in the room she shares with her brother Jacob is a takeaway.

Carrie, 17, who is dyslexic, Jacob, their five brothers and sisters and parents Heidi and Carl are victims made homeless by the almighty Buncefield oil depot blast in Hertfordshire on December 11. 2005. The family home at Hemel Hempstead was wrecked and they had to move into the nearby Holiday Inn just off the M1.

Mrs Brazier is convinced that Carrie narrowly missed out on getting her expected GCSE grades because of the trauma of the explosion and being uprooted and unsettled through the final month of studying. "It's been horrendous," said Mrs Brazier. "Because she is dyslexic, Carrie relies on her computer to help her with most of her work. but she has limited access.

The hotel charges pound;75 a week for the internet and the insurance company dealing with our claim will not help us."

The other children in the Brazier family are also struggling because of the upheaval. They are hoping to be back in their home in a couple of months.

Many other pupils and schools in the area are still feeling the effects. It was described by the fire service as one of the biggest explosions in peacetime Europe.

Despite being more than three miles away, Townsend CofE school in St Albans felt the full force of the blast. Ceilings fell, walls cracked, roofs caved in, three of the four boilers exploded and entire blocks were wiped out.

The school was closed while structural engineers investigated. Andrew Wellbeloved, headteacher, said: "Every time we had high winds, we had to move out of the canteen in case the ceiling crashed down on us."

The school, which is voluntary aided, is not fully covered by insurance and has so far had to pay out more than pound;75,000 for repairs from its maintenance budget. The insurance company is liable for only 10 per cent of the damage.

The school hopes to get back the money from oil companies but that could take years and it will be spending at least another pound;70,000 on repairs over the next year.

Mr Wellbeloved said: "It's been a nightmare. We had no boilers and had to bring in 30 heaters. Even now, we only have one and if that breaks down, the school has to close. We have had pupils sitting exams in their coats.

We intended to improve our ITC suite, provide new lockers and resurface the playgrounds, so it has had a big knock-on effect. I've tried hard not to let it affect the children's education but it has been hard."

Levestock Green primary, the nearest school to the oil depot, had windows and door frames blown out. Carpets and school books were covered in glass and a corridor had to be rebuilt.

But unlike Townsend, Levestock Green is voluntary-controlled and the local education authority is liable for all repairs. Alan Phair, headteacher, said: "Compared to Townsend, we have been lucky."

Although much of the cosmetic work has been repaired, some children are still receiving counselling for the trauma they suffered. Mr Phair said:

"Many of the children really suffered and still have nightmares.

"The effects of the explosion have been extreme and it has been a tough time for education in this area for all involved."

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