The site operator said an explosion at a chemical park in West Germany killed two people and left five missing, but residents were warned to stay indoors after several hours.
At least 31 people were injured in a devastating explosion at the Champark complex in Leverkusen at 9:40 a.m., site operator Carinta said.
All affected people worked on site.
In a recent incident in Syria, Curinta said rescue workers had found another body. It also increased the number of missing employees from three to five.
“The search for the missing continues at full speed. Unfortunately, their hopes of being found alive are dwindling,” said Lars Frederick, head of the camp.
The cause of the blast, which was heard several kilometers away and sent a column of black smoke into the air, is not yet known.
Germany’s NANA warning app sent residents an “extreme danger” warning, telling them to stay indoors and keep doors and windows closed for most of the day.
The bomber struck shortly after noon in front of a Chemermark garbage dump in the Berrig district of Leverkusen.
The area is separate from the nearby Central Industrial Park, which houses several chemical companies, including Bayer, Lancashire and Avonic Industries.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragic accident,” said Frederick of Camprick.
He told reporters that experts were running to identify the composition of the smoke. Asked if the cloud could contain toxic gases, Frederick declined to speculate, but said nothing could be ruled out.
“It was a dark day for the people of Leverkusen,” said City Mayor Eve Richards.
He said playgrounds in the city’s Borig and Opladon neighborhoods would be closed. Residents were also advised not to eat fruits and vegetables from their garden.
As of Tuesday evening, the city of Leverkusen said the daytime pollution level measurement was “not surprising”, which could gradually remove the indoor shelter warning.
The last people to be identified were those who lived near the blast zone in Leverkusen’s Bering district.
However, locals were told not to try to touch or clean up the discomfort particles they could find until further analysis by experts.
Frederick said the explosion ignited tanks that were used to store liquid solvents awaiting evacuation.
The blaze lasted for several hours, and nearby Cologne firefighters called for help.
Frederick said the three tanks were “completely or partially destroyed”, making it impossible to say where the explosion started.
North Rhine-Westphalia Home Secretary Herbert Revel said 300 firefighters managed to prevent another tank from exploding, which contained toxic waste.
Large numbers of police, firefighters and rescue personnel were present at most parts of the day, as well as pollution prevention experts.
In Cologne, police said they temporarily closed several motorways and told drivers to avoid the area.
Locals shared photos of the black cloud rising in the air on social media, with some saying the blast caused their windows to slip.
According to a report in Der Spiegel magazine, the blast was measured 40 kilometers (25 miles) away.
Leverkusen, on the east bank of the Rhine, is located 20 kilometers north of Cologne in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Its total population is over 160,000.
According to Curinta, Kempak Chemicals is the largest complex in Europe, with more than 70 companies at its three sites.
Leverkusen also saw severe flooding, which damaged homes and cars.
“Corona, then flood, now explosion,” wrote Nico, a Twitter user from the nearby town of Lechlingen. “Enough is enough.”
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