Two firefighters killed in blast at BASF's German chemical complex

LUDWIGSHAFEN, Germany (REUTERS) - The two people known to have died after an explosion and subsequent fire at German chemical giant BASF's flagship production complex at Ludwigshafen on Monday (Oct 17) were both members of BASF's own fire brigade.

They were responding to a minor fire near the site's river harbour on Monday morning when a pipe exploded, BASF told journalists at a news conference on Tuesday.

One other person is still missing following the blast and six of the 25 people injured are still in intensive care, Ludwigshafen city official Dieter Feid said at the news conference. "Things are not looking good for some of them," he said.

The resulting blaze took firefighters 10 hours to extinguish and forced BASF to shut down more than 20 facilities, including its two steam crackers which produce the basic hydrocarbon chemicals such as propylene and ethylene used to manufacture a wide range of plastics and other chemicals.

It is still unclear what caused the initial fire, BASF said. Investigators have not yet been able to examine the blast site because there is still some gas leaking from broken pipes.

BASF said there was no risk to the public from toxic fumes, and said it had been able to prevent chemicals from leaking into the Rhine river.

The harbour terminal at which the explosion occurred handles combustible fluids such as naphtha and methanol and remains closed for the time being, which means BASF is facing a shortage of raw materials needed for production.

"That means that we have a big challenge for production now and that we will have to seek solutions with our customers as quickly as possible," management board member Margret Suckale said at the news conference.

She said she could not yet say what the financial damage of the explosion would be, adding the company's main concern was for the deceased, the injured and their families for the moment.

BASF's Ludwigshafen site, around 80 kilometres south of Frankfurt, is the world's largest chemical complex, covering an area of 10 square kilometres and employing 39,000 workers, according to BASF.