Several explosions engulfed a chemical plant in flames Wednesday, forcing a broad evacuation as the fire spewed a sticky substance that residents were warned not to touch.
There were no immediate reports of injuries, but police drove up and down nearby streets warning that more explosions were expected at the Chemcentral Corp. facility, which stores and distributes various chemicals and solvents.
Officials worked to evacuate people within a one-mile radius, including about 500 residents, and went door to door to get people out. The roof of a house within a block of the fire ignited, but firefighters quelled the flames before much damage was done, authorities said.
Fire officials also told residents throughout the city to avoid picking up debris carried by the dark cloud that streamed out of downtown, although Fire Chief Richard Dyer said the material was not highly toxic. The cloud appeared to be dropping a sticky substance as it moved to the southwest over the metropolitan area.
Ken Hannon, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said a number of chemicals are at the property, including mineral spirits, turpentine and other solvents.
"I'm looking through the list. I'm not seeing anything that's jumping out at me" as particularly hazardous, he said. "Flammability seems to be the main concern right now for most of these chemicals."
Officials were monitoring the air within a two-mile radius, Dyer said.
Dyer said firefighters had abandoned attempts to fight the blaze and would just let it die out, hopefully by Thursday morning, although it could burn for a few days. A shelter was being set up at a high school for displaced residents.
The Kansas City school district sent students from eight schools in the area to another high school to keep them as far from the explosions as possible, a district spokeswoman said. Kansas City Southern shut down its nearby rail yard operation and evacuated workers.
The fire began after several 55-gallon drums containing chemicals exploded, touching off more blasts and fires, Fire Marshal Floyd Peoples said.
Fire officials worried the intense heat would cause three 30,000-gallon rail tank cars filled with mineral spirits to explode, the AP reports.
Police and firefighters went door-to-door to evacuate residents for fear of additional explosions, streets and highways were closed off and nearby schools and businesses shut down
A Chemcentral employee said the fire started behind the warehouse. Craig Nienhueser, a superintendent at Chemcentral, said there were nine employees in the area at the time.
"One of my guys heard a big hissing sound, and then he got knocked back," Nienhueser said. The employees decided the flames were too big to put out themselves, so they cleared out of the area and started to warn nearby residents and businesses, he said. "Afterwards, I checked on my men and gave everyone a hug."
At North Olive and Front streets, just four blocks from the plant, Chemcentral employee Bill Rohde emerged shaken. He said the initial blast knocked him off his feet and he had no idea how the fire began.
Rohde was anxious about his co-workers but could not get close enough to check on their welfare. Soon after, authorities established a half-mile safety perimeter around the plant. A Kansas City police officer warned Rohde, "If you want to return to work here someday, you better move a half-mile away."
Nienhueser said the company works with solvents, not acids or corrosives.
The company distributes dozens of products, including waxes, resins, solvents, pigments and silicones, according to the company Web site.
While the company would not say what chemicals were at the building, it recently filed a report with the Missouri Emergency Response Commission that listed acetone, alcohol, diesel fuel, ethyl acetate, heptane, isobutyl acetate, rubbing alcohol, methyl ethyl ketone, mineral spirits and ketone.
Daniel Brennan, an attorney for Chemcentral in Bedford Park, Ill., said the plant had 15 to 20 employees and five to 10 trucks could have been at the plant, Kansascity.com reports.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik
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