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AZF plant explosion

AZF was the name of a chemical factory in Toulouse, France. On 21 September 2001, a huge explosion occurred in the AZF fertiliser factory in Toulouse, France, belonging to the Grande Paroisse branch of the Total group.

Three hundred tonnes of ammonium nitrate were stored (the maximum capacity was 2,000 tonnes) in the hangar 221. The whole factory was destroyed making a crater of depth 20 to 30 m, with a diametre of 200 m ; steel girders were found 3 km away from the explosion.

The blast measured 3.4 on the Richter scale, with an estimated power equivalent to 20-40 tons of TNT. The explosion was heard 80 km away (50 miles).

Police at first believed that at least five bombs had simultaneously gone off. There is still controversy over the exact number of explosions.

The disaster caused 29 deaths (28 from the factory, 1 secondary school pupil from a neighbouring school), 2500 seriously wounded, and 8000 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. The total damages already paid by insurance groups currently exceed 1.5 billion euros.

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