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The BBC's Colin Blane reports from Enschede
"The mayor refused to comment on speculation about possible arson"
 real 28k

Monday, 15 May, 2000, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
Inquiry into firework blast
Enschede residents
Stunned local residents did not know the warehouse was there
The authorities in the Dutch town of Enschede have promised a full independent investigation into Saturday's explosion at a fireworks' warehouse which killed at least 20 people.

Forensic teams are searching the ruins for more bodies and evidence of the causes of the fire.


Enschede firefighters
Firefighters lost four of their colleagues while tackling the blaze
Chief of police Aad Groos said arson had not been ruled out. Three businesses have been burnt down in the northern area of Enschede in recent weeks.

Dutch television reported that firefighters had been called to another arson attack in Enschede on Monday morning, but the fire was quickly extinguished.

The owners of the SE Fireworks warehouse - who went missing after the blast - have come forward and promised to co-operate with the investigation into the causes of the disaster.

Click here for a map of Enschede

Search efforts were stalled on Sunday by extreme heat from the smouldering rubble, and teams only managed to search a small part of the disaster zone. Fifteen bodies had been recovered by the end of the day.

Counselling

Local authorities said 601 people had been injured in the blast in a low-income neighbourhood of Enschede, 135km (85 miles) east of Amsterdam.

Enschede fire
The fire lit up the whole town

About 60 people were admitted to a number of regional hospitals - 11 of them are in intensive care units.

Mayor Jan Mans said 200 local people were still unaccounted for, although officials stressed that most of these people were not believed to be dead.

Officials hoped some of the 2,000 local residents would be able to return to their homes later on Monday after workers clear debris from about 400 damaged houses.

Children at the three schools in the area were given a day off, while special psychological counselling sessions were held at other schools.

Protest

On Sunday, protestors called for changes in the law to stop explosives being stored in residential areas.

Queen Beatrix comforts a police officer
Queen Beatrix visited the scene

Twenty firms in the Netherlands have licences to store fireworks and there are two more warehouses in Enschede alone.

Most people - including Mayor Mans - were unaware that the SE Fireworks warehouse was even there.

When it was built in 1977, the warehouse was outside the town, but as new residential areas were built it became surrounded by low-income housing.

Mr Mans said that the factory had all the necessary operating permits and had passed required inspections, including those conducted by the Dutch army.

Firefighters - four of whom died at the scene - at first believed they were attending a routine fire.

Then 100 tons of explosives ignited, sending fireballs into the air.

Panic

Luuk Nijenhuis said his sister and brother-in-law lived in the neighbourhood and had to be evacuated after initially thinking they were seeing a pyrotechnics show.

"I phoned and they were in total panic," he said.

"They had set their chairs up in a row to watch the fireworks."

Local authorities have played down earlier fears that harmful asbestos might have been released into the atmosphere from the roof of the next-door warehouse.

Mayor Mans said the levels were lower than had been feared, and some workers would be allowed to start repairing houses.

Queen Beatrix visited the scene on Sunday, witnessing streets carpeted with glass, burnt and flattened cars and houses with their roofs blasted off.


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13 May 00 | Europe
In pictures: Firework blaze
14 May 00 | Media reports
Dutch PM shocked by blast chaos
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