Latin America & Caribbean

Brazil fire: Explosion unleashes toxic gas in Santos

A general view over the port on a giant cloud of smoke billowing in Guaruja, near Santos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 14 January 2016. According to reports, the smoke was caused by a chemical reaction of Dichloroisocyanuric acid in contact with water that entered a cargo container. EPA Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mayor said chemical elements 'could burn the skin'

A chemical explosion at a cargo warehouse in Brazil has spread toxic gas over the country's biggest port.

The company owners said the containers in Santos were full of acid and a disinfectant which came into contact with rainwater, causing a reaction.

The area's mayor said at least 66 people were taken to hospital with breathing difficulties.

Officials said the fire had been controlled but that there is still smoke in the area.

The cargo terminal and nearby homes were evacuated and residents were asked to stay inside.

The container terminal was operated by Localfrio, a logistics company, in Guaruja, an area on the eastern side of Santos, in Sao Paulo state.

A spokeswoman for the company, which exports chemicals used for refrigeration and general cargo, said the containers were filled with chloric acid and sodium dichloroisocyanurate - a cleaning and disinfectant agent.

Firefighters said rainwater had seeped into the containers causing a chemical reaction.

Local Mayor Mario Antonieta de Brito asked people to stay out of the rain which could "contain chemical elements that can burn the skin".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Firefighters worked overnight at the site of the fire

This is the latest in a series of recent incidents involving chemical companies in Brazil:

  • In the country's worst environmental disaster, a dam used to hold waste water from an iron mine collapsed in Minas Gerais state in November 2015, killing at least 13 people. Mud containing toxic substances like mercury, arsenic, chromium and manganese reached the Atlantic Ocean
  • In April 2015, a fire at a fuel storage facility near Santos raged for nine days, sending a thick black smoke into the sky
  • A dam at a separate iron ore mine in Minas Gerais state collapsed in September 2014 causing a landslide that killed three workers

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