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A large explosion rocked one of Europe's main gas pipeline hubs on Tuesday, leaving one person dead and stoking concerns about the continent's winter supplies.

A fire at the Baumgarten facility in eastern Austria after an explosion rocked the site, one of Europe's main gas pipeline hubs (AFP / Tomas HULIK)

By AFP

A large explosion rocked one of Europe's main gas pipeline hubs on Tuesday, leaving one person dead and stoking concerns about the continent's winter supplies.

Photos and videos on social media showed a huge tower of orange flames visible for miles around roaring out of the Baumgarten facility in eastern Austria.

Police said that the blast at around 8:45 am (0745 GMT) killed one person and left 21 hurt, one of them with serious but not life-threatening injuries who was airlifted to hospital in Vienna.

"I heard a huge explosion and thought at first it was a plane crash," photographer Tomas Hulik, a resident of a village over the border in Slovakia, told AFP. "Then I saw an immense ball of flame."

Austrian police said the incident at the site, which is responsible for about a tenth of Europe's gas supply, was caused by a "technical" fault and that local authorities had begun an investigation.

Some 200 firefighters took several hours to extinguish the blaze. The heat was so extreme that cars parked at the site partially melted.

Baumgarten, 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of Vienna, is Austria's largest reception point for gas, the end-point for a number of pipelines from Russia, Norway and elsewhere.

It receives some 40 billion cubic metres of gas annually and redistributes it onwards to other countries in Europe including to Germany and northern Italy.

Armin Teichert, a spokesman for the site's operator Gas Connect Austria, said that the facility had been evacuated and put into "security mode".

The material damage is "major," Teichert told AFP.

- Italian emergency -

He added that there could be interruptions in supply to Italy and Croatia, but nowhere else.

Italy's government declared a state of emergency for its gas sector and said it would tap its underground reserves to ensure that customers were not affected.

Russian gas giant Gazprom said it was "working on redistribution of gas flows and (doing) its best to secure uninterrupted gas supplies to the clients".

A spokesman for Austrian gas firm OMV, which part-owns Gas Connect Austria, told Bloomberg that getting Baumgarten back to normal "isn't a question of hours, but days".

The incident further spooked European energy markets a day after one of Britain's most important North Sea oil pipelines was closed because of a crack.

Natural gas and power prices jumped in Europe, and Brent crude oil futures rose above $65 a barrel for the first time since June 2015.

A cold snap in Britain and across Europe has also pushed up demand for gas and heating oil in recent days.
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