Two dead, five missing after explosion hits waste incineration plant in Leverkusen, Germany
An explosion at a waste incineration plant in Leverkusen, a city in the western North Rhine-Westphalia region in western Germany, left two people dead and five missing on Tuesday, 27 July 2021, the site operator, Currenta, said in a statement. A warning for residents to stay indoors was lifted after several hours. At least 31 people were injured, one of them critically, in the blast that rocked the Chempark complex at around 09h40am. “The search for the missing continues at full speed. Sadly, hopes of finding them alive are dwindling. All of those affected worked at the site”, said Chempark head Lars Friedrich.
The municipality said that a storage tank of solvents was on fire but said that the blaze had been extinguished after four hours. Around 360 emergency services staff were deployed to assist local authorities, the municipality added, while several major roads nearby were also partially closed. Large numbers of police, fire fighters and rescue crews were at the scene for much of the day, as well as pollution-detection experts.
The city of Leverkusen said in a statement that the blast occurred in storage tanks for solvents and had sparked a fire in tanks used as storage for liquid solvents awaiting incineration, Friedrich said. The blaze took several hours to put out, with fire fighters from nearby Cologne called in to help.
Three of the tanks “were completely or partially destroyed”, Friedrich said, making it impossible to tell for now where the explosion started.
Herbert Reul, North Rhine-Westphalia state’s interior minister, said over 300 fire fighters narrowly managed to prevent another tank exploding, which contained poisonous waste.
Police in Cologne said they temporarily closed several motorways and told drivers to avoid the area.
Germany’s Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance had classified the explosion as "an extreme threat".
After the explosion sent a large black cloud into the air, residents in Bürrig district where the Chempark is located, were asked to stay indoors. Local fire services said that had been testing the air throughout the city for toxins but said that they remained "inconspicuous" and the area has been given the all-clear. But residents have still been advised to avoid carrying soot particles into their homes and remove footwear outdoors.
Leverkusen is home to Bayer, one of Germany's biggest chemical companies.
Germany’s NINA warning app sent an “extreme danger” alert to residents, telling them to stay home and shut doors and windows for most of the day.
The area is separate from the main industrial park nearby that houses numerous chemical companies including Bayer, Lanxess and Evonik Industries.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragic accident,” said Chempark’s Friedrich. Experts were racing to identify the composition of the smoke, he told journalists. Asked whether the cloud might contain toxic gases, Friedrich declined to speculate but said nothing could be ruled out.
Uwe Richrath, the city’s mayor, said it was “a dark day for the people of Leverkusen”. Playgrounds in the city’s Buerrig and Opladen neighbourhoods would be closed, he said. Residents were also advised not to eat fruit and vegetables from their garden.
By Tuesday evening, the city of Leverkusen said measurements of pollution levels taken throughout the day “were unremarkable”, allowing the warning to shelter indoors to gradually be lifted. The last people to get the all-clear were those living closest to the blast zone in Leverkusen’s Buerrig district. Locals were, however, told not to touch or try to clean away any soot particles they might find, until further analysis by experts.
According to a report in Der Spiegel magazine, the blast was measured as far as 40km (25 miles) away.
Leverkusen, on the eastern bank of the Rhine River, lies about 20km north of Cologne in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. It has a population of more than 160 000 people.
According to Currenta, the Chempark chemicals complex is one of the largest in Europe, with more than 70 companies based at its three sites.
The chemical incident comes as Germany is reeling from historic floods earlier this month that left at least 180 people dead in North Rhine-Westphalia and neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate state.
Leverkusen too saw heavy flooding that damaged homes and cars.
The cause of the explosion was not yet known.
Sources: Al Jazeera and Euro News