By Kirsten Grieshaber | Associated Press
BERLIN – At least one person was killed and 31 others were injured in an explosion at an industrial park in Germany on Tuesday. Firefighters who tested the air said it did not appear to be a danger to residents in the area, after authorities initially urged people to take refuge inside.
The explosion at the waste management plant of the Chempark site in the city of Leverkusen, near Cologne, sent a large black cloud into the air. It took firefighters nearly four hours to put out the blaze that erupted after the blast.
The Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief in Germany initially classified the incident as an extreme threat. Later on Tuesday, however, the Cologne fire department tweeted that air pollution measurements “show no abnormality.” They said the smoke had gone down but that they would measure the air for toxins.
The city of Leverkusen said in a statement that the explosion took place in storage tanks for solvents. Police said Tuesday afternoon 31 people were injured, with five of them in intensive care. They did not give any details about their identity, the age of the deceased and the injured people, as not all family members have been informed yet.
“We are deeply concerned about this tragic accident and the death of our employee,” Chempark chief Lars Friedrich told reporters in Leverkusen. “We are doing everything we can to get this situation under control as soon as possible. We know that the residents of Leverkusen are very concerned.”
City officials asked all residents to stay indoors until late afternoon and warned people from outside Leverkusen to avoid the region. City officials later also warned people not to let children play outside in the coming days, use outdoor pools or eat fruits and vegetables from their backyards. They said experts would only be able to tell within a few days how toxic the soot from the explosion would be.
Currenta, the company that operates the chemical park, said the blast occurred at 9:40 a.m. and then developed into a fire. They said three large tanks were affected by the blast, but that it was too early to know the cause of the blast.
“Sirens were used to warn residents and warnings were sent,” Currenta said in the statement.
Police in nearby Cologne said a large number of officers, firefighters, helicopters and ambulances from across the region were deployed to the scene. They also turned off several nearby highways for several hours.
Leverkusen is home to Bayer, one of Germany’s largest chemical companies. It has about 163,000 inhabitants and borders Cologne, which is Germany’s fourth largest city and has about 1 million inhabitants. Many residents work at Bayer, which is one of the largest employers in the region.
The chemical park is located very close to the banks of the Rhine River.
Currenta has three facilities in the region. More than 70 different companies are located in Leverkusen, Dormagen and Krefeld-Uerdingen.
Leverkusen Mayor Uwe Richrath calls the explosion a tragic moment for Leverkusen. ‘
“It was a huge explosion that was felt all over the city,” he said. “I hope the four missing people are still alive.”