KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – Several explosions engulfed a chemical plant in flames Wednesday, forcing a broad evacuation as the fire spewed a sticky substance that residents were warned not to touch.

There were no immediate reports of injuries, but police drove up and down nearby streets warning that more explosions were expected at the Chemcentral Corp. facility, which stores and distributes various chemicals and solvents.

Officials worked to evacuate people within a one-mile radius, including about 500 residents, and went door to door to get people out. The roof of a house within a block of the fire ignited, but firefighters quelled it before much damage was done.

, authorities said.

Fire officials also told residents throughout the city to avoid picking up debris carried by the dark cloud that streamed out of downtown, although Fire Chief Richard Dyer said the material was not highly toxic. The cloud appeared to be dropping a sticky substance as it moved to the southwest over the metropolitan area.

Ken Hannon, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said a number of chemicals are at the property, including mineral spirits, turpentine and other solvents.

“I’m looking through the list. I’m not seeing anything that’s jumping out at me” as particularly hazardous, he said. “Flammability seems to be the main concern right now for most of these chemicals.”

Officials were monitoring the air within a two-mile radius, Dyer said.

Dyer said firefighters had abandoned attempts to fight the blaze and would just let it die out, hopefully by Thursday morning, although it could burn for a few days. A shelter was being set up at a high school for displaced residents.

The Kansas City school district sent students from eight schools in the area to another high school to keep them as far from the explosions as possible, a district spokeswoman said. Kansas City Southern shut down its nearby rail yard operation and evacuated workers.

The fire began after several 55-gallon drums containing chemicals exploded, touching off more blasts and fires, Fire Marshal Floyd Peoples said.

Fire officials worried the intense heat would cause three 30,000-gallon rail tank cars filled with mineral spirits to explode.

But images from the air showed smoke or steam venting from one of the cars, indicating its pressure relief valve had activated and the heat was letting up, Fire Battalion Chief Joe Vitale said.

Plant superintendent Craig Nienhueser said workers had heard a hissing noise inside the building. He went around to the back and noticed some flames, at which point the workers were evacuated.

“We are just thankful everybody is OK. Now we just have to work with the fire department to get this contained,” Nienhueser said. He added that the plant had operated for about 50 years without a problem.

Dan Brennan, an attorney for Bedford Park, Ill.-based Chemcentral, said it was not immediately clear what caused the explosions at the plant, which has 15 to 20 workers.

Emergency responders from the Environmental Protection Agency were at the scene, in the city’s East Bottoms section. The agency sent a plane up to fly in the smoke cloud to take air quality samples.



Associated Press writers Margaret Stafford and Heather Hollingsworth contributed to this report.


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