The explosion occurred on January 14, 2020, at around 18:40 local time in La Canonja, a municipality located in northeastern Spain about 80 kilometers away from Barcelona.
Most people did not hear the explosion and thought that maybe an earthquake had struck. Maite Fonoll, a local who was in a store when the blast occurred, stated: “The entire building shook. It was really strong. And when something happens there, we all start to shake with fear.”
Rescue crews arrived at the site in search of victims, however, the search efforts were abandoned during the night due to hazardous conditions and reduced visibility. Firefighters rushed at the scene and managed to control the fire about 5 hours later.
The plant is owned by Industrias Químicas de Óxido de Etileno (IQOXE), a Spanish firm that produced ethylene oxide (C2H4O). Ethylene oxide is mostly utilized for the production of ordinary goods such as plastics and detergents. According to officials, the company did not immediately alert authorities about the blast. "The first warnings came from citizens,” a Civil Protection source, stated.
The blast probably occurred in a department of the factory that was recently opened. According to the Civil Protection Agency, the explosion was clarified as a “chemical accident”. Authorities alerted people to stay inside their residences as a precautionary measure.
The blast triggered a fire and caused a residential building, located three kilometers away, to partially collapse. A piece of metal from the plant with approximate dimensions of 122x165x3 centimeters and weight of about 1 ton, was ejected due to the explosion and hit the building. The collision caused severe structural damage and resulted in one fatality. According to firefighters, the metallic piece was a cover from the plant's reactor.
The explosion caused 2 additional casualties. A worker succumbed to his injuries the day after the incident while a plant's employee was reported dead after the blast. 7 more people were injured due to the incident.
On January 16, Quim Torra, the current president of the Government of Catalonia, stated that normal conditions have been fully restored. "Now we can send a message of calm and confidence to people. There is no toxicity and therefore people can carry on with their lives as normal," Torra said.