BASF SE (IW 1000/39) said one employee died and at least six people were missing following an explosion and fire at the chemical maker’s main plant on the banks of the River Rhine in Germany.
Another six people were seriously injured after a fire at a supply line led to a series of blasts, Peter Friedrich, the head of the local fire service, said at a press conference on Oct. 17 in Ludwigshafen, the German town where BASF has its headquarters and biggest manufacturing hub. Chemical products were escaping from the scene of the incident and burning, he said.
The air in the area is being monitored and a "security perimeter” has been established, Friedrich said. Smoke billowed over the neighboring town of Mannheim, which is across the river, where residents have also been informed, although the company said there is “no danger.”
The deadly explosion is a setback for the world’s biggest chemicals maker whose businesses span from oil to shampoo ingredients. The incident affected 14 facilities at the site, leading the company to halt two steam crackers and some other production equipment. The blast took place at the sprawling chemical park’s Landhafen Nord site at about 11:30 a.m. local time while work was taking place on piping, the company said.
BASF didn’t disclose which pipelines were affected nor did it provide details about any substances released into the atmosphere.
“We know there was a deflagration at a supply line, how it came to explosions we don’t know right now,” BASF plant manager Uwe Liebelt said, confirming work was being carried out at the time in that area of the plant.
German prosecutors and police in Ludwigshafen will start an investigation into the explosion, according to police spokesman Sebastian Burkhard. Authorities plan to release a statement on Tuesday.
Nearby residents were advised to close their doors and windows. Footage posted under the #Ludwigshafen hashtag on Twitter showed plumes of smoke and flames raging from the chemical park. One eye witness reported three blasts and flames as high as 100 meters (328 feet), according to Die Rheinpfalz’s online edition.
Liebelt declined to discuss the financial costs of the explosion, saying “today is a day of mourning.”
The Landhafen Nord port is a terminal for combustible fluids such as naptha, methanol and compressed liquified gases. More than 2.6 million tons of goods are handled there each year, and an average seven ships a day moor at its docks, according to BASF’s website. It is one of three ports BASF operates at the Ludwigshafen site.
By Oliver Sachgau and Sheenagh Matthews