An explosion at an industrial park for chemical companies shook the German city of Leverkusen on Tuesday, sending a large black cloud rising into the air.
First responders say at least 16 people were injured and five remain missing, the AP is reporting, but the toll is expected to rise.
Germany’s Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance classified the explosion as “an extreme threat” and asked residents to stay inside, turn off ventilation systems and keep windows and doors closed, German news agency dpa reported.
The city of Leverkusen said in a statement that the explosion at the Chempark site, about 20 km north of Cologne on the Rhine river, occurred in storage tanks for solvents.
Currenta, the company operating the chemical park, said the explosion happened at the in the morning in the storage tanks of their waste management centre and then developed into a fire.
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.
Residents said the blast could be heard far away, with some saying their windows were rattled by the force of the explosion. Many shared images on social media of the smoke billowing from the chemical site.
Daily Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger reported that the smoke cloud was moving in a northwestern direction toward the towns of Burscheid and Leichlingen.
Leverkusen, Germany’s fourth biggest city, is home to Bayer, one of the country’s biggest chemical companies, where many residents work.