Spain: Death toll from chemical plant explosion reaches 3

TARRAGONA, Spain (AP) — The death toll climbed to three Wednesday from a massive explosion and fire at a petrochemical plant in Spain as one person died in hospital and another body was found in the wreckage, authorities said.

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Another seven people were injured in the blast near a northeastern city late Tuesday.

The third victim, a man who had suffered severe burns, died in a Barcelona hospital almost 24 hours after the blast, Spanish private news agency Europa Press reported.

Earlier Wednesday, emergency workers found a body buried under debris inside the plant, where a worker had been missing since the explosion, Miquel Buch, the regional head of Catalonia’s interior department, said.

A preliminary investigation indicated the force of the factory explosion near the coastal city of Tarragona killed another person in a nearby neighborhood when a piece of flying metal from the plant struck his apartment, regional authorities said.

Authorities are investigating the cause of what they described as a “chemical accident” on the premises of chemical maker Iqoxe. The seven people injured all worked there, officials said.

Iqoxe CEO José Luis Morlanes said the explosion occurred in a 20-ton tank of ethylene oxide in a part of the plant that had not had any problems since it was built in 2017.

Morlanes said the company was investigating the causes of the explosion but its inspectors could not approach the site while firefighters were still working.

According to the company's website, Iqoxe is Spain's sole producer of ethylene oxide, a chemical compound used for making detergents, solvents and other products, as well as glycol, one of the main raw materials in the production of plastics.

Regional firefighters for Catalonia said 30 crews worked through the night to combat a fire the explosion caused at the plant. Fire chief Albert Ventosa said the blaze was under control Wednesday.

The fire could been seen for miles, and local residents posted videos showing the aftermath of the blast with flames and a big column of black smoke emerging from an area dotted with big industrial tanks.

Antonia Caballero, 65, was cleaning her house when the explosion occurred.

“I thought that the door at the front of the building had collapsed. I looked out to the window and I saw the flames. I went to the door and left right away,” she said. “My sons called me. I though I was going to have a heart attack.”

Tarragona is located 115 kilometers (71 miles) southwest of Barcelona, the regional capital of Spain's Catalonia region.

Since 2015, the city has housed a 1,200-hectare (2,965-acre) “chemical hub,” ChemMed, that was described as the largest of its kind in southern Europe.