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Fatal Explosions Jolt Toulouse, France - 2001-09-21

At least 10 people are dead and 180 injured after explosions at a petrochemical factory in the southern French city of Toulouse. French authorities believe the explosions were accidental.

A series of powerful explosions rocked the AZF petrochemical plant in Toulouse, demolishing the building and partially destroying a nearby appliance store. A local high school was also damaged. Police closed the city's metro and rail stations, along with the regional airport, and sealed off major highways into Toulouse.

The explosions shattered hundreds of windows in Toulouse, and clouds of orange and red smoke hovered over the city. An AZF spokeswoman told France-Info radio that about 450 people worked at the factory. The spokeswoman said it is still not clear how the explosion occurred. She said some of the chemicals at the plant could be explosive, under certain conditions.

So far, local officials say there are no signs of toxicity in the air, although small traces of ammonia have been detected in plumes of smoke floating over the city. But residents were initially warned to remain in their house and to reduce their consumption of municipal water.

French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who is from the region, arrived in Toulouse shortly after the accident.