The explosion at a fireworks warehouse in
Holland on Saturday, May 13 has left at least 20 people
dead and 601 injured. Four fire fighters died trying to
tackle the blaze that ensued and has devastated parts of
Enschede near Holland's border with Germany. Local residents
are demanding to know why the authorities allowed the fireworks
warehouse to be located in the middle of a residential area.
Prime Minister Wim Kok has promised an investigation.
The SE Fireworks warehouse was located in a poor working
class neighbourhood and 400 houses were seriously damaged
by the explosion, some reduced to rubble. A series of blasts
sent concrete blocks and glass shards flying. There were
fears of asbestos contamination from the roof of a nearby
Grolsch brewery that caught fire as a result. Search efforts
were stalled on Sunday by extreme heat from the smouldering
rubble. Forensic teams are still searching the ruins for
more bodies and evidence of the causes of the fire. Two
hundred people remained to be accounted for yesterday, but
the death toll is not expected to reach this high figure.
Authorities said they hoped many of those unaccounted for
were staying with friends or relatives and appealed for
them to come forward.
Of the 15 bodies recovered so far, 12 have still to be
identified. Six people are in intensive care units at local
hospitals. Some 800 people have had to sleep in temporary
Aad Groos, the local Chief of Police, said arson had not
been ruled out. Three businesses were burned down in the
northern area of Enschede recently and fire fighters were
called to another arson attack on Monday morning. Dutch
safety regulations demand that explosives be stored in separate
insulated bunkers, but the depot's entire store of 100 tonnes
of explosives used in making the fireworks detonated.
The lack of knowledge of the nature of the warehouse's
function contributed to the deaths that ensued. Fire fighters
believed they were attending a routine blaze, but were then
caught up in a massive detonation, which created a fireball.
The blast was heard in nearby towns.
No local people were aware of the function of the SE warehouse.
The building was constructed in 1977, outside the town proper.
But the authorities subsequently allowed the construction
of low-income housing around the warehouse, with no concern
as to the safety risks when it comes to poorer sections
of workers. This is not an isolated phenomenon. Town Mayor
Jan Mans confirmed that the city was home to a second fireworks
storehouse and claimed this was located in an industrial
area to the east of the city. However, Dutch television
has shown a demonstration by residents of a mobile home
park situated near the second warehouse.
In total, 20 firms in the Netherlands have licences to
store fireworks long-term for professional displays, and
40 other firms can store fireworks for individual consumers.
The Dutch Firework Foundation told the media that most of
the 20 long-term stores were bigger than that at Enschede
and some were located in populous areas like the Hague and
Leiden. The SE Fireworks warehouse is said to have met all
existing legal and licensing requirements and was inspected
as recently as last Wednesday.