Rescuers search for 5 missing workers at German blast site

BERLIN — Rescue teams in western Germany searched for five missing workers Wednesday at an industrial park for chemical companies a day after an explosion killed at least two people and injured 31 others.

The Tuesday explosion at the waste management facility of the Chempark site sent a large black cloud of smoke into the air and ignited a fire that took firefighters almost four hours to extinguish. The industrial park is located in the city of Leverkusen, near Cologne.

The CEO of Currenta, which operates the Chempark industrial park, said there was little hope for the five missing workers — four Currenta employees and one outside contractor.

“We have to assume that the missing people can no longer be found alive,” Frank Hyldmar told reporters in Leverkusen. He added that of the 31 injured, one person was still in a life-threatening condition.

Police said Wednesday that investigations into the cause of the explosion would begin Thursday, the German news agency dpa reported. So far, it appeared that the blast was linked to storage tanks filled with solvents.

Due to the thick smoke, authorities told residents Tuesday to stay indoors and shut down several major highways for hours. City officials also warned people not to let children play outside, use outside pools or eat fruit and vegetables from their backyards for the next few days.

The environmental authority for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where Leverkusen is located, said Wednesday that the explosion’s smoke contained dioxin, polychlorinated biphenyl and furan compounds. However, it could not yet say how strong the concentration of these chemicals were, dpa reported.

Leverkusen is home to Bayer, one of Germany’s biggest chemical companies and one of the biggest employers in the region. The city has about 163,000 residents, many of whom work for Bayer.

The industrial park is located close to the Rhine River.

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