On September 21, 2001, a huge explosion occurred in the AZF fertilizer factory in Toulouse, France, belonging to the Grande Paroisse branch of the Total group.
Three hundred tons of ammonium nitrates were stored (the maximum capacity was 2,000 tons) in the hangar #221. The whole factory was destroyed making a crater of depth 20 to 30 m (65 to 100 ft), with a diameter of 200 m (650 ft); steel girders were found 3 km away from the explosion. The explosion was heard 80 km away (50 miles). Due to the acoustics of the hills and the large sound, the explosion was reported as occurring in multiple places. Police at first believed that at least five bombs had simultaneously gone off. There is still controversy over the exact number of explosions.
The factory was close to the city: one of the most inhabited areas, Le Mirail, is just one kilometer away (0.6 miles). Several schools, one hospital and a psychiatric hospital had to be evacuated.
The disaster caused 29 deaths (28 from the factory, one lycéen — secondary school/high school pupil — from a neighbouring school), 2,500 seriously wounded and 8,000 light casualties. Two thirds of the city's windows were shattered, causing 70 eye wounds and several thousand wounds which had to be sutured. The full environmental consequences of the catastrophe are not yet completely known.
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