Seven hundred firefighters are struggling to extinguish a blaze at a German Kraft Foods factory, hours after a chemical leak triggered a mass evacuation. One thousand eight hundred people were removed from the area.
The incident happened in the small town of Bad Fallingbostel in the country’s north. Workers at the facility accidentally poured nitric acid into a tank, which contained sodium hydroxide, and caused a chemical reaction.
The nitrous gases which participated in the reaction are considered extremely dangerous if they come into contact with the human body.
About 250 factory employees were evacuated, along with 800 people living in the immediate vicinity. However, shortly afterwards, the risk zone was enlarged to around 500 meters in radius, and a further 1,000 people abandoned their homes.
Firefighters are trying to cool the container down, to avert an explosion and a critical spike in temperatures. After the firefighters tried for hours to tackle the situation, the situation worsened on Tuesday morning, the Berliner Post reported, with additional rescue teams called from nearby Hamburg.
News portal Thelocal.de said the witnesses likened the scene to a disaster movie, with hundreds of specialists working in protective suits. Their work was slow, spokesman for the regional fire brigade Stephen Meier said.
“We have to swap in the specialists every 20 minutes, and then we also need new protective suits, and they are running short,” he added.
Rescue teams have been pumping out the dangerous acid mixture, with the toxic cloud having been dispersed early in the morning.
All schools and kindergartens in the vicinity were shut down on Tuesday. Highway 7, which passes nearby, was blocked for safety reasons.