Unexpected thunder and fire shattering the winter night were the first vivid impressions of some of the 2,500 inhabitants of the village where Pan Am Flight 103 crashed.

"There was a terrible explosion, and the whole sky lit up and the sky was actually raining fire. It was just like liquid," said Mike Carnahan, who was a few hundred yards from wreckage that came down Wednesday.All 258 people aboard the Boeing 747 were killed, and authorities said there were no survivors in several houses and cars hit by the wreckage.

Witnesses said the plane hit a gasoline station in Lockerbie.

"All I could see was flames and fire," Carnahan told British Broadcasting Corp. television. "I could see several houses on the skyline whose roofs were totally off, and all you could see was flaming timbers and what was left of the houses."

Reporter Ian Fisher of Border TV said: "The south side of the town near the main road has been wiped out. Houses are gutted."

Sheila McDonald, who was delivering Christmas presents to a friend's home on a hillside overlooking Lockerbie, told reporters she heard "a horrible droning sound."

"This V-shaped object just seemed to come flying through the air. . . . It was the wings and front section of an aircraft. Another part came just behind and all around seemed to be red dots like sparks. It hit some houses in the town and there was a mass of flame and everything just started to shake."

Marian Peel told Independent Radio News: "I pulled into the garage and was getting petrol (gasoline) when I heard a rumble that sounded like thunder. It just got louder and louder and louder.

"There was a great big crash and a big burst of fire. Within seconds there was debris flying all over the place. I just left the car and ran like hell. I didn't see the plane hit the ground because the garage has a canopy and it was on the other side of the canopy.

"There was a lot of fire about and a lot of debris and flames flying all over the place. The tarmac was on fire . . . I ran from the car and there were flames all round the tires."

BBC TV reporter Craig Anderson said he saw up to eight houses demolished and others on fire.

"I saw a massive crater 20 feet deep and 100 feet long, but nowhere have I seen any wreckage (from the plane) more than about 3 feet across," he said.

He said choking smoke and fumes continued to billow through the town several hours after the crash.

Rescue helicopters flew overhead as firefighters fought the flames.