A massive blast at a factory on the outskirts of Thailand’s capital Bangkok killed at least one person and injured 29 others and forced thousands to evacuate their homes amid fears of toxic fumes and the risk of more explosions.
Patients were also moved out of a nearby hospital.
Local reports said the blast, which was at about 3am local time, was at a factory manufacturing foam and plastic pallets, just outside Bangkok, near the city’s main Suvarnabhumi international airport.
The blast was heard from miles away, local reports said, and surveillance video footage captured the bright flash.
Witnesses said the explosion shook the airport, and debris was seen flying in the air.
Firefighters used helicopters to douse the flames in hard-to-access areas in the large factory complex, the Associated Press reported.
Chailit Suwannakitpong, a local disaster-prevention official, said: “By mid-morning, the main blaze at the Ming Dih Chemical factory had been brought under control, but a massive tank containing the chemical styrene monomer continued to burn.”
Jaruwan Chamsopa, who lives about 3km from the factory, said the blast damaged the roof of her house and caused parts of the ceiling to tumble down.
The windows of every house on her road were broken as well. “I was shocked when the explosion took place. I came out and saw a big fire in the sky.”
“I didn’t realise that it would be such a dangerous chemical that I would have to evacuate,” she added, and didn’t leave the house till 8am. She said: “I am worried because the black smoke has reached my house.”
Firefighters were still battling the blaze as smoke billowed from the factory hours after sunrise.
Officials ordered the evacuation of the area of up to 5km around the factory, setting up evacuation centres in schools and government offices.
Volunteer rescue worker Anyawut Phoampai told Thailand’s public television station TPBS that early efforts to find people possibly still in the factory were hampered by the time the fire was under control.
He said: “The flames are quite high so it takes quite an effort.”
The cause of the explosion has not yet been confirmed. AP reported that the initial explosion in Bang Phli district shook the terminal building at the airport, setting off alarms.
Styrene monomer, a hazardous liquid chemical used in the production of disposable foam plates, cups and other products, can produce poisonous fumes when ignited.
Mr Chailit said officials were trying to move all people out of the area, including doctors and patients from the neighbourhood’s main hospital, over fears that the fumes would harm people and the possibility of more explosions.
Airport officials said no flights had been cancelled but said they were monitoring the situation and prepared to “put in place contingency plans in case of emergency”.