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Thousands Of Thais Are Forced To Flee After A Chemical Plant Explosion.
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Thousands Of Thais Are Forced To Flee After A Chemical Plant Explosion.


BANGKOK (AP) — A massive explosion at a chemical factory on Bangkok's outskirts early Monday killed at least one person, injured dozens more, and damaged scores of homes, prompting the evacuation of a large area due to fears of poisonous fumes and the possibility of further denotations.

Winds shifted and began blowing toward the city's center late in the afternoon, and evacuation centers were set up in a school and a government office for those forced to flee their homes.

The fire broke out around 3 a.m. at a foam and plastic pellet manufacturing factory near Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport, with the explosion blowing out windows and sending debris raining from the sky.

The explosion could be heard for kilometers (miles), and surveillance video from a nearby house captured the bright flash and boom, followed by shockwave damage to the home and the one next door.

The main fire at the Ming Dih Chemical factory had been put out by mid-morning, but an enormous tank containing the chemical styrene monomer was still burning, according to Chailit Suwannakitpong, a local disaster prevention official.

Helicopters attempted to fly close enough to drop fire retardant on it, with limited success at first.

Rain was forecast for later in the day, but the Prime Minister's Office also ordered that clouds be seeded if possible in the hope that a downpour would help bring the pollutants out of the sky. At the same time, officials warned that if it did rain, residents should be especially cautious about drinking water from the city's rivers and canals because it would be contaminated with toxins.

Authorities reported that 62 people had been injured, including 12 firefighters and rescue workers, and that one person had died.

When styrene monomer, a hazardous liquid chemical used in the manufacturing of disposable foam plates, cups, and other products, is ignited, it can emit poisonous fumes.

Over the fear of the fumes and the possibility of more explosions, Chailit said officials were attempting to evacuate everyone from the area, including doctors and patients from the neighborhood's main hospital, where many of the casualties were initially treated.

The chemical also emits styrene gas, a neurotoxin that can immobilize people within minutes of inhalation and can be fatal at high concentrations. A styrene gas leak from a chemical factory in the Indian city of Visakhapatnam killed 12 people and sickened over 1,000 people last year.

Authorities were closely monitoring the air quality in the area surrounding the fire, and Pollution Control Department official Thalerngsak Petchsuwan urged anyone remaining in the area to close their doors and windows to avoid inhaling any fumes.

“Those who breathe it in may become dizzy or vomit, and it may cause cancer in the long run,” he said, adding that authorities had ordered the evacuation of a 5-kilometer (3-mile) radius around the scene.

In photos from Thai media, firefighters could be seen climbing through the twisted steel wreckage of the complex's warehouses to get their hoses close enough to the flames as they fought to control the blaze. The badly charred body of the only fatality — reportedly a 19-year-old volunteer firefighter — lay face down among the wreckage, his head resting on his right forearm.

The neighborhood surrounding the factory is a mix of older industrial complexes and newer housing developments constructed after the airport opened in 2006.

Jaruwan Chamsopa, who lives about 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from the factory, said the loud explosion in the middle of the night broke her house's windows, damaged the roof, and caused parts of the ceiling to collapse, as well as the windows of every other house on her road.

“I was shocked when the explosion happened,” she told The Associated Press, “and when I came out, there was a large fire in the sky.”

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She and her husband and mother didn't leave until 8 a.m., according to her.

“I had no idea it would be such a dangerous chemical that I would have to evacuate,” she explained, adding, “I am concerned because the black smoke has reached my house.”

There was no immediate word on what caused the fire in the Bang Phli district, and the company's phone number was not answered.

The initial explosion shook the terminal building at Bangkok's main international airport, Suvarnabhumi, triggering alarms.

Airport officials stated that no flights had been canceled, but they were continuing to monitor the situation and were ready to “implement contingency plans in the event of an emergency.”

This article was contributed to by Associated Press writers Chris Blake, Tassanee Vejpongsa, and Chalida Ekvittayavechnukul.

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