Two killed, 8 hurt in blast at Spain chemical plant

Smoke rise following a big explosion at an industrial hub near the port city of Tarragona, Spain.
Smoke rise following a big explosion at an industrial hub near the port city of Tarragona, Spain.PHOTO: AP

LA CANONJA, SPAIN (AFP) – Rescuers found a body at a chemical plant in northeastern Spain on Wednesday (Jan 15), raising to two the number of those killed when an explosion ripped through the facility, triggering a massive blaze which raged through the night.

Catalan regional interior minister Miquel Buch confirmed the latest death, saying a body had been located under the rubble at the site on an industrial estate in La Canonja, just outside the northeastern port city of Tarragona.

Spain’s civil protection authority identified the victim as “an employee at the plant” reported missing on Tuesday.

Hundreds of firefighters battled through the night to try and contain the blaze which erupted just before 7pm (1800 GMT) on Tuesday.

Dramatic footage of the moment of the explosion showed a huge fireball lighting up the horizon, causing the ground to shake.

One person died when a sheet of metal flung into the air by the force of the blast crashed into an apartment several kilometres away in the Tarragona suburbs, the Catalan government said.

Two others at site were rushed to hospital with severe burns, rescuers and local officials said, while one person sustained less serious burns and five others were lightly injured.

“We heard a very large explosion, everything shook, the windows shattered. I don’t know how I didn’t get a heart attack,” 85-year-old Lorenza Casado, who was in the living room of her flat in an apartment building located in front of the chemical plant at the time of the blast, told AFP.


Local authorities said firefighters were still trying to put out the blaze and cool down the propylene oxide tank at the IQOXE facility but that the situation had stabilised.

“This will kill us one day,” said Casado’s son-in-law, Juan Gomez, as he cleared broken glass from the balcony of his home, adding it “can’t be healthy” to live so close to the plant.

“My partner, who is 43, has had two cancers and we can’t have kids,” he said.

Area residents are used to the wails of emergency sirens once a year, when a chemical accident drill takes place.

But many said they had been left in the dark about the blast, saying the sirens had not been activated.

“Nobody knew what was happening, if it was dangerous or not, if it was toxic. They told us to stay indoors but the sirens did not go off,” said Ursula Marin who runs a store in the neighbourhood.

The deputy head of the region’s civil protection division accused IQOXE of dragging its feet in providing details about the incident, which led to delays in warning the public.

“The (emergency) protocols were not followed,” Sergi Delgado told Catalan radio RAC1, saying IQOXE had not provided the necessary information for emergency workers to evaluate the situation and about whether there was a toxic cloud.

“This led to delays.”


But Jose Luis Morlanes, director general of IQOXE, insisted the company – whose products are used in antifreeze fluids, dehumidifiers, detergents and cosmetics – had done nothing wrong.

“We have been coordinating very closely with the authorities and following all their instructions,” he told reporters.

He said it was not immediately clear what caused the explosion which took place inside a storage tank with a capacity for holding 20 tonnes of ethylene oxide that was located in a section of the plant that only began operating in 2017.

Although the substances at the plant were highly flammable, they were not toxic, with firefighters and the civil protection authority saying no toxicity had been detected in the surrounding area.

Tarragona’s old town is home to Roman ruins and sandy beaches but its outskirts house several chemical and oil refineries which created some 40,000 jobs which have drawn workers from across Spain and account for 25 per cent of the country’s petrochemical sector.