One person has died after a huge explosion at a chemical plant rocked a German city, sending thick black smoke billowing into the sky.
Leverkusen was shaken by the blast, which was quickly branded an ‘extreme threat’ by the German Gederal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance on Tuesday morning.
Currenta, the company operating the chemical park, said another 16 people were hurt.
At least four of those are severely injured in hospital, while a further four people were still missing on Tuesday afternoon.
Officials at the Chempark site, based on the banks of the Rhine and about 13 miles north of Cologne, were not immediately sure of what caused the explosion at around 9.40am, which then developed into a fire.
They said on Twitter that firefighters and pollution detection vans were on the scene, amid initial concerns that dangerous fumes could be pouring into the air.
Later on Tuesday, however, the Cologne fire department tweeted that measurements of the air’s pollution did ‘not show any kind of abnormality’.
Smoke pours out of German chemical plant complex in Leverkusen after explosion
Residents said the blast could be heard far and wide, adding that their windows were rattled by the force of the explosion.
Footage filmed from a nearby motorway showed orange flames being dwarfed by plumes of fumes rising high above the industrial park, where a number of chemical companies are based.
The head of Chempark, Lars Friedrich, said in a written statement: ‘We are deeply concerned about this tragic accident and the death of our employee.’
Currenta, the company operating the chemical park, said the explosion happened at 9.40am local time and then developed into a fire.
‘Sirens were operated to warn residents and warning alerts were sent,’ it added in a statement.
The newspaper Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger reported that the blast came from a garbage incineration plant in the Buerrig neigbbourhood.
It added that several nearby major highways had been shut down by police and that the smoke was moving northwest, towards the towns of Burscheid and Leichlingen.
Locals were urged to stay inside and keep their windows and doors closed, while people not living in Leverkusen were told to avoid the area.
Firefighters from all over the region were reportedly called in to help extinguish the blaze – and it took them almost four hours to do so.
Helicopters, a large number of ambulances and police also attended.
Leverkusen is home to Bayer, one of Germany’s biggest chemical companies – which gives its name to the city’s football team and provides employment to many residents.
It has about 163,000 residents and borders Germany’s fourth biggest city, Cologne, which is home to around one million people.