The explosion sent a black cloud of smoke into the air on Tuesday but fire officials who tested the air said there did not appear to be a danger to nearby residents in Leverkusen, around 13 miles north of Cologne on the River Rhine.
Authorities had initially urged people to shelter inside and it took firefighters almost four hours to extinguish the subsequent fire that took hold.
The explosion was classified as “an extreme threat” by the country’s Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance, German news agency dpa reported.
The city of Leverkusen said the explosion occurred in storage tanks for solvents.
Chempark operator Currenta said a second fatality had been confirmed. It put the number of injured at 31 and said five employees were missing.
“Unfortunately hope of finding them alive is fading rapidly,” the head of Chempark, Lars Friedrich, said in a statement.
🇩🇪 Explosion Reported in Leverkusen, Germany
According to witnesses, a large column of smoke has risen above the premises of the Bayer chemical company.
— Susan Frankenfield (@IMSuzyQuzy) July 27, 2021
Police in Cologne said a large number of police, firefighters, helicopters and ambulances had been deployed to the scene.
Residents were urged to stay inside and keep windows and doors closed while others have been warned to avoid the area.
The explosion happened at a rubbish incineration plant in the Buerrig neighbourhood, according to Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger.
The newspaper said several nearby major highways had been shut down by police and described the smoke cloud moving in a northwestern direction toward the towns of Burscheid and Leichlingen.
Leverkusen is home to 163,000 residents and borders Cologne, which is Germany‘s fourth biggest city with around 1 million inhabitants. It is home to Bayer, one of Germany’s biggest chemical companies.
The mayor of Leverkusen, Uwe Richrath, called the blast “a tragic moment for Leverkusen”.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press.