Belgium Commemorates Victims Of Gas Line Explosion

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- Flags flew at half-staff and fire sirens wailed to mark a national day of mourning Wednesday as Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and other dignitaries attended the funeral ceremony for victims of last week's massive gas line explosion.

Crown Prince Philippe joined Verhofstadt in traveling south of the capital to Ath to join thousands of mourners at the funeral for seven of 18 people burned to death when the pipeline exploded Friday in a spectacular ball of fire.

The last missing body was discovered under debris from an industrial site close to the explosion late Tuesday.

The Belgian tricolor flew at half-staff throughout the nation of 10 million, which paused at 11 a.m. to commemorate the victims.

At the same time, firefighters across the nation honored their fallen comrades by setting off sirens at fire stations and on fire trucks.

The seven victims being buried in Ath included five firefighters, one policeman and one civilian. They received posthumous honors from Interior Minister Patrick Dewael.

``The whole nation has been touched by the events and renders homage to these heroes,'' Dewael told 1,200 mourners at a packed St. Julien church.

Delegations of firefighters from Belgium and neighboring countries lined the streets in Ath, 18 miles southwest of the capital, where the funeral was held.

In a steady procession, accompanied by somber music and slowly chiming bells, the flag-draped coffins were carried from the fire station to the Saint Julien church. Thousands of thousand people watched the services on a giant television screen outside.

The Friday explosion sent a tower of orange flame soaring into the sky in a series of mushrooming balls of fire. The thunderous blast crushed a swath of large buildings in the industrial park and hurled bodies more than 100 yards. Everything within a 400-yard radius of the blast site either melted or was incinerated.

The cause of the gas leak that preceded the explosion is still under investigation.

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