One person has been killed and four others are missing after an explosion rocked an industrial park housing several chemical companies in Germany’s western city of Leverkusen.
Tuesday’s explosion at the waste management facility of the Chempark site, which houses chemical companies including Bayer and Lanxess, took place shortly before 10am local time (08:00 GMT).
It sent a large black cloud into the air and sparked a fire, though the blaze was later extinguished.
The city of Leverkusen said in a statement that the blast occurred in storage tanks for solvents. It said 16 people were injured, four of them seriously.
“We are deeply concerned about this tragic accident and the death of our employee,” the head of Chempark, Lars Friedrich, said in a written statement.
It took firefighters almost four hours to extinguish the fire that took hold after the blast.
Germany’s Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance initially classified the incident as “an extreme threat” and urged people to shelter inside, with windows and doors closed.
Currenta said people in nearby homes should also turn off air conditioning systems while it measured the air around the site for possible toxic gas.
Later on Tuesday, however, the fire department in the nearby city of Cologne tweeted that measurements of the air’s pollution “do not show any kind of abnormality.”
They said the smoke had gone down but that they would continue to measure the air for toxins.
Police in Cologne, which is Germany’s fourth biggest city, said a large number of officers, firefighters, helicopters and ambulances from across the region had been deployed to the scene.
They asked all residents to stay inside and warned people from outside of Leverkusen to avoid the region.
They also shut down several nearby motorways.
‘A moment of real concern’
Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting from the capital, Berlin, described the incident as a “moment of real concern” for local authorities in and around Leverkusen.
“An explosion such as this at an industrial and chemical plant really had the potential for very serious damage indeed,” he said.
“It appears as though … the real worry that there might have been some poisonous cloud appears not to have been well founded,” he added.
“But clearly this is a matter of very serious concern for the authorities … and the number of people who have been caught up in this.”
More than 30 companies operate at the Chempark site, which is located very close to the banks of the Rhine river, according to its website.
Bayer and Lanxess in 2019 sold Chempark operator Currenta to Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets for an enterprise value of 3.5 billion euros ($4.12bn).
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