Dutch Fireworks Blast Leaves 20 Dead, Hundreds Injured

May 15, 2000

A terrific blast and fire Saturday afternoon in the quiet Dutch town of Enschede, has left at least 20 people dead, more than 500 injured and numerous destroyed houses and cars.

The explosion occurred when a small fire spread to the storage area of a local fireworks factory, containing more than 100 tons of highly explosive materials. A fireball leveled the surrounding area and rained concrete and glass debris over a large part of the city, which is located about 85 miles east of Amsterdam, near the German border.

Victims were treated in local hospitals and emergency centers set up by Dutch and German rescue crews. 39 people were still hospitalized on Monday; six in critical condition.

Workers at the scene had so far recovered 15 bodies, only 3 of which have been identified, and are continuing to search the wreckage. Some 2000 people live in the immediate area surrounding the factory, and some 200 are still unaccounted for.

Although the factory was recently inspected, and operated in accordance with the permits issued, residents questioned the practice of allowing an inherently dangerous facility to be located in a residential area.

Prime Minister Wim Kok, and Queen Beatrix visited the town Sunday to reassure residents, and inspect the damage. Kok indicated that the government would make funds immediately available to clean up the damages and restore the stricken area.

Although no estimates were yet available as to the cost of the damages, the Dutch Association of Insurers set up a telephone helpline to advise victims of the blast on filing claims. The Dutch Red Cross is heading a national appeal to help those left homeless.

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