BERLIN -- An explosion at an industrial park for chemical companies in Germany killed at least one person Tuesday, with 16 injured and four still missing. Fire officials who tested the air said there did not appear to be a danger to nearby residents after authorities initially urged people to shelter inside.
The explosion at the waste management facility of the Chempark site in the city of Leverkusen, near Cologne, sent a large black cloud into the air. It took firefighters almost four hours to extinguish the fire that took hold after the explosion.
Germany’s Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance initially classified the incident as “an extreme threat." Later on Tuesday, however, the Cologne fire department tweeted that measurements of the air's pollution “do not show any kind of abnormality.” They said the smoke had gone down but that they would continue to measure the air for toxins.
The city of Leverkusen said in a statement that the explosion occurred in storage tanks for solvents. It said four people were hospitalized with severe injuries.
“We are deeply concerned about this tragic accident and the death of our employee,” the head of Chempark, Lars Friedrich, said in a written statement.
Currenta, the company operating the chemical park, said the explosion happened at 9:40 a.m. and then developed into a fire.
“Sirens were operated to warn residents and warning alerts were sent,” Currenta said in the statement.
Police in nearby Cologne said a large number of officers, firefighters, helicopters and ambulances from across the region had been deployed to the scene. They asked all residents to stay inside and warned people from outside of Leverkusen to avoid the region.
They also shut down several nearby major highways.
Daily Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger reported that the smoke cloud was moving in a northwestern direction toward the towns of Burscheid and Leichlingen.
Leverkusen is home to Bayer, one of Germany’s biggest chemical companies. It has about 163,000 residents and borders Cologne, which is Germany's fourth biggest city and has around 1 million inhabitants. Many residents work at Bayer, which is one of the biggest employers in the region.
The chemical park is located very close to the banks of the Rhine river.
Currenta has three facilities in the region. More than 70 different companies are based at the locations in Leverkusen, Dormagen and Krefeld-Uerdingen.