On Tuesday, an explosion in a German industrial park killed at least two people and injured 31, igniting a fierce fire that cast a pall of smoke over the western city of Leverkusen. Several people remained unaccounted for.
The fire at the Chempark site, which is home to chemicals companies Bayer (BAYGn.DE) and Lanxess (LXSG.DE), erupted three hours after the blast at 9:40 a.m. (0740 GMT), according to park operator Currenta.
“My thoughts are with the injured and with loved ones,” said Chempark chief Lars Friedrich. “We are still searching for the missing people, but hopes of finding them alive are fading,” he added.
Police said five of the 31 injured people were affected seriously enough to need intensive care.
“This is a tragic moment for the city of Leverkusen,” said Uwe Richrath, mayor of the city, which lies north of Cologne.
The area and surrounding roads were sealed off for much of the day.
Police advised nearby residents to stay indoors and close doors and windows in case of toxic fumes. Locals, according to Currenta, should also turn off air conditioning systems while the air around the site is tested for possible toxic gases.
In this photo obtained from social media, smoke billows after an explosion in Wiesdorf, Leverkusen, Germany on July 27, 2021. REUTERS/Anna Fross
According to Chempark’s Friedrich, it was unclear what caused the explosion, which resulted in a fire in a solvent-containing tank.
“Solvents were burned during the incident, and we do not know precisely what substances were released,” Friedrich added. “We are examining this with authorities, taking samples.”
Sirens and emergency alerts on the German civil protection agency’s mobile phone app warned citizens of “extreme danger”.
Leverkusen is less than 50 kilometres (30 miles) from a region devastated by catastrophic floods last week, which killed at least 180 people.
According to its website, the Chempark site in Leverkusen is home to more than 30 companies, including Covestro (1COV.DE), Bayer, Lanxess, and Arlanxeo.
In 2019, Bayer and Lanxess sold Chempark operator Currenta to Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets (MQG.AX) for 3.5 billion euros ($4.12 billion).
($1 = 0.8492 euros)