An explosion in a German industrial park on Tuesday killed one person and left four others missing, setting off a fierce blaze and sending a pall of smoke over the western city of Leverkusen.
Fire services were alerted in the morning with sirens warning members of the public an emergency was underway, the blaze took three hours to extinguish at the Chempark site, home to chemicals companies Bayer and Lanxess.
“In such situations all you can do is send out an alarm and warn people. We did that early with the help of the fire services, we set off the sirens, we used the warn apps to warn the public of the possible threat and urged the public to go indoors. Whether there really was a present danger we can’t really say as it is a fire smoke cloud and it isn’t possible to carry out an analysis straight away. We measured the air at the time and found nothing but we don’t have the tools to carry out an immediate certain analysis,” Chemplant head Lars Friedrich said.
Efforts were focused on finding the four missing, Friedrich said, adding that an analysis to see whether any poisonous substances had leaked into the air would take several days.
The situation was downgraded from acutely dangerous to dangerous until further notice.
Leverkusen’s fire chief, Hermann Greven said 360 firefighters had been on the scene to tackle the blaze which started at 10 local time (0800GMT)-
“This was an exceptionally damaging event. Several tonnes of solvents in various tanks caught fire and were burning at the same time and that of course produces a huge level of flames and smoke, which was seen clearly all above Leverkusen,” Greven said.
“At the moment we are concentrating on the cloud that has started to dissipate, where is it dropping, has it caused any pollution in places. We are working with the state environment ministry on this and are trying to get a clear picture of the situation,” he added.
Before any further investigations into the cause are carried out efforts will focus on trying to find the missing people.
“At the moment we are focusing in securing the site, searching for the missing people and keeping the danger minimal, in the second phase we and other officials will look into how this could have happened to ensure it doesn’t happen again in the future,” Friedrich said.
Leverkusen is less than 50 km (30 miles) from a region hit last week by catastrophic floods that killed at least 180 people.
More than 30 companies operate at the Chempark site in Leverkusen, including Covestro, Bayer, Lanxess and Arlanxeo, 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 ($4.12 billion).