One dead, four missing after huge explosion at German chemicals plant

31 injured in blast at plant in Leverkusen after tank containing solvents caught fire

Smoke billowing from the chemical industry area of Chempark in Leverkusen, Germany. Photograph: Oliver Berg/DPA via AP

Smoke billowing from the chemical industry area of Chempark in Leverkusen, Germany. Photograph: Oliver Berg/DPA via AP

 

German rescue crews are searching for four missing people after a massive explosion killed at least one, injured 31 and reduced a chemicals plant near Cologne to a smoking crater.

The explosion took place on Tuesday morning at 9.40am at a plant in Leverkusen, 16km from Cologne, operated by the firm Currenta. A firm spokesman confirmed one death on Tuesday afternoon and said five were in a critical condition after a tank containing solvents caught fire.

The fire spread to three tanks in total, and the resulting blaze sent massive plumes of dark smoke into the air, triggering emergency sirens in Leverkusen and environs. Residents were warned to close all windows and remain indoors, Germany’s emergency app warned of “extreme danger” and all motorways around the area were blocked to allow fire crew access.

They extinguished the fire after three hours and first aerial shots of the plant showed a massive black crater, widespread debris and a sea of white fire-fighting foam.

Leverkusen mayor Uwe Richrath said the detonation was so strong that it was registered by geological sensors 40km away.

“This is a tragic day for Leverkusen,” he said.

Vegetables

Even after the fire was extinguished, Currenta chief executive Lars Friedrich said the firm was still seeking a cause and urged everyone in the region to exercise caution. No one should eat vegetables from their gardens, he said, nor touch anything outdoors with a coating of dust.

“Solvents were burned, including chlorinated solvents, there are no more precise analyses as yet therefore we are not rescinding the warning,” he said. “We are deeply shaken by the tragic death of one colleague.”

The Currenta industrial park in Leverkusen is one of the world’s largest, home to 200 chemical production companies and is the site of the original Bayer production plant. The German chemicals giant was co-owner of the park until it was sold off in 2019 for €3.5 billion to Australian investment company Macquarie.

Local reports say the facility where the explosion took place is one of the largest in Europe for processing organic and toxic waste, residues, insecticides and other chemical-tainted waste.

On its website, Currenta says that special industrial waste delivered to its Leverkusen site will be “disposed of to the highest technical standard”.

Leverkusen was a ghost town on Tuesday afternoon, as businesses sent their employees home and many shops closed to all customers while others kept their doors closed.