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Locals describe 'terrifying fear' during chemical plant blast

Witnesses of Tuesday's incident talk of "colossal" explosion, while union hits out at "failure" of emergency protection plan


15 January 2020 11:59 AM


ACN | Barcelona

Local people who witnessed the explosion that took place at a petrochemical industrial estate in la Canonja in southern Catalonia on Tuesday evening have described the "terrifying fear" they felt during the incident and its aftermath.

Speaking to the Catalan News Agency (ACN), the manager of a local furniture shop, Carmen Alcalà, described the sound of a tank of ethylene oxide exploding at the IQOXE company's factory as "colossal." 

"At around a quarter to seven, there was a really strong explosion. But the second and third repetitions were colossal. The blasts were enormous. The factory became a ball of fire," Alcalà told ACN.

After the blasts caused part of the false ceiling to collapse, Alcalà says they decided to close the shop and leave. "More than anything it was because of the fire. It was only 400 meters away. It was as if bombs had fallen," she said.

Local people "stunned" by projectile

Meanwhile, local people in the nearby Ponent de Tarragona area were "stunned" by the explosion, describing how an object launched by the blast hit an apartment block in the Torreforta neighborhood and caused the death of one person.

The blast launched the piece of metal with such force that it flew three kilometers before hitting the block, entered the building through the third floor, and then crashing down onto the floor below, where the man who was killed lived.

The fire service later inspected the building and evacuated and sealed off the first three floors, while the Catalan police have begun investigating the incident and its connection with the explosion at IQOXE's factory.

One local woman, Antonia Mora, was convinced there had been a gas explosion in the block: "It sounded like a bomb going off, and everything became colored red," she said, describing how the whole building was shaken by the impact.

Emergency protection plan criticized

On Wednesday, the CCOO trade union criticized the PLASEQCAT emergency protection plan for the chemical sector, in particular the failure of the warning sirens to activate after the explosion and the resulting fire.

"In a number of meetings with the Catalan government and the employers' associations, the CCOO union has already warned that there are problems with this protection plan," the union said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the Cel Net platform, which wants to halt the growth of polluting industries, was also critical of the plan, and called a demonstration for Wednesday in the city of Tarragona to demand that the authorities and the chemical industry "protect the population."

The mayor of La Canonja, Roc Muñoz, commented that locals have been asking him why the emergency sirens didn't sound. He believes that they "should have been activated" and announced that he will meet with the emergency services to discuss the issue.


  • Entrance of a building in Tarragona shortly after being hit by a metal piece shot off from the explosion in La Canonja on January 14, 2020 (by Núria Torras)

  • Entrance of a building in Tarragona shortly after being hit by a metal piece shot off from the explosion in La Canonja on January 14, 2020 (by Núria Torras)