BERLIN — A major industrial explosion and subsequent fire at a commercial waste disposal plant rattled the city of Leverkusen in western Germany on Tuesday, killing at least one worker and injuring more than a dozen others.
Federal authorities had quickly declared the situation an “extreme threat” and warned local residents to avoid the area, stay indoors, shut their windows and doors and switch off home air conditioning units fed by outside air, as they assessed the toxicity of the smoke that billowed out from the site.
“A full analysis of the cloud that we all saw over the city today is not available,” said Lars Friedrich, the director of Chempark, the industrial park where the explosion occurred, during a news conference on Tuesday afternoon. Mr. Friedrich noted that such an analysis could take several days.
The city of Leverkusen confirmed, one death and 16 workers with injuries, including four who were gravely injured. Four workers are still missing.
“I still have hope that the four that are still missing will be found alive,” said Mr. Friedrich.
The cause of the explosion, which occurred at around 9:40 a.m. local time, is still unknown. But the fire broke out in a tank depot, which held industrial solvents, sending a plume of thick black smoke billowing from the plant.
The wind quickly blew the smoke over inhabited parts of the area, which worried the authorities, who warned local residents of the potential danger through a federal warning app and with sirens citywide. It took firefighters around three hours to extinguish the blaze.
The initial explosion was heard from miles away. By midday, the authorities said the smoke no longer posed an acute danger.
Uwe Richrath, Leverkusen’s mayor, called it a “tragic day” for the city and noted the town’s historic links to the chemical industry, the most famous of which is the Bayer chemical and pharmaceutical giant, which is based not far from the site of the explosion.
After the explosion the city’s well-known soccer team Bayer 04 Leverkusen moved their training indoors to avoid the smoke.
“Everyone in Leverkusen knows the chemical industry, everyone in the city might have even had someone in their families who worked there,” Mr. Richrath said.
On Tuesday afternoon emergency response personnel were focused on finding the missing workers. Only once the site has been cleared can the cause of the explosion be investigated, said Mr. Friedrich.
Mr. Richrath, the mayor, announced that playgrounds would close and warned residents to wash any freshly picked fruits or vegetables before eating them. The police shut down local roads including several highways near the plant.
Although the site of the explosion is just seven and a half miles from the city of Cologne, the city’s firefighters said in a post on Twitter that the air in that city remained safe for residents.