Two people were killed and two others were missing after an explosion Monday at a chemical plant at BASF’s headquarters in western Germany, the firm said, advising local residents to stay indoors.
Six other people were seriously injured in the blast, the global chemicals giant said on its Twitter account.
The explosion occurred around 11:30 am (0930 GMT) and triggered a huge fire during work on a pipeline that transports raw materials.
Peter Friedrich, the fire brigade chief in the city of Ludwigshafen where the plant is located, said firefighters hoped to put out the blaze on Monday night despite “uncertainty over the nature of the gases”.
A large fire and a huge column of grey smoke rose into the sky from the site, a vast industrial complex with a harbour on the Rhine river.
Hours after the explosion, firefighters including a fireboat crew were still trying to extinguish the flames, an AFP reporter said.
“We have not been able to establish any danger to the population,” BASF executive Uwe Liebelt told reporters earlier in the day, after residents in Ludwigshafen and nearby Mannheim were told to remain inside and shut doors and windows until the fire was out.
Local authorities had also asked nurseries and schools to keep children indoors, but no evacuations were ordered.
“Emergency services from the whole region are on the scene to prevent the fire spreading to other parts of the plant,” city authorities said.
BASF said it was still investigating the precise cause of the blast.
- ‘Respiratory irritations’ -
The site’s steam cracker units -- used in a chemical procedure to produce lighter hydrocarbons -- have been shut down for safety reasons, the company added.
Ludwigshafen is a city of some 160,000 people located around 80 kilometres (50 miles) southwest of Frankfurt.
On its Twitter account, Ludwigshafen said that some residents had complained of respiratory irritations.
Both BASF and emergency services have been checking for pollutants in the air around the town and encountered no elevated readings, officials said.
Local authorities set up an emergency hotline for worried residents.
“It’s pretty scary when something explodes here,” local window cleaner Thomas Storzum told AFP. “Something can just leak out of a pipe and catch fire like that, it’s pretty serious.”
“BASF is relatively good, they react quickly with their own firefighters,” student Stefan Veit said. “Like any big chemical company they know these things can happen and they’re ready for it.”
The Landeshafen Nord site where the explosion took place is a harbour used for the transportation of combustible fluids and liquefied gases.
“We don’t know exactly what was in the pipe systems” that caught fire, BASF’s Liebelt told reporters, but firefighters were assuming it was the most dangerous substance handled on-site, liquified ethylene gas.
- Second incident -
On its website, the company describes the site as a “very important for BASF’s supply of raw materials”, where more than 2.6 million tonnes are handled each year.
The goods are unloaded from ships into the production plants via a system of pipelines.
The company employs 36,000 people in Ludwigshafen.
BASF also suffered a second, smaller incident at its nearby Lampertheim plant Monday where four people were injured in a gas explosion.
The company said the two incidents were not related.
BASF employs over 110,000 employees worldwide, with sales of more than 70 billion euros ($77 billion) last year.
In its deadliest incident to date, nearly 600 people were killed in 1921 in an explosion at an ammonia plant near Ludwigshafen.
In 1948, 200 people died and more than 3,800 were injured when a rail tanker exploded, also at the Ludwigshafen complex.