The first explosion rocked the Yerevan-based Nairit plant late in the afternoon, sending plumes of black smoke billowing skywards. Company officials said it occurred at one of the plant’s facilities used for storing a chemical substance that produces synthetic rubber, the company’s main product.
The explosions reportedly followed a huge fire at a chloroprene production shop at the plant. The two explosions could be heard by residents living in the nearby area.
Firefighters and ambulances were rushed to the scene shortly afterwards. Police blocked adjacent streets on the southern outskirts of Yerevan by the time a second blast occurred later in the day. The fire rated as ‘huge’ was reportedly localized.
Nikolay Grigorian, a spokesman for Armenia’s Rescue Service, told RFE/RL at the scene that the blasts killed three people and left another unaccounted for. He said two others were taken to hospital with serious injuries. Seventeen firefighters and other rescue workers suffered burns and smoke poisoning while trying to put out the resulting fire, added the official.
The causes of the accident, apparently the most serious of its kind since the Soviet collapse, were not immediately clear. Both Grigorian and a Nairit spokeswoman, Anush Harutiunian, insisted that it does not pose serious environmental risks.
“The accident will not cause serious ecological problems,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL. “The fire has been localized and there are no dangerous emissions.”
The chemical giant periodically faces emergency situations blamed on its obsolete Soviet-era equipment and poor safety standards. In one such instance, two Nairit reservoirs containing inflammable industrial waste caught fire that raged for two days before being extinguish by firefighters in December 2006. Nobody was seriously hurt at the time.
The latest accident came just one month after Nairit resumed its work following a nearly five-month stoppage blamed by its management on the global economic crisis. The plant employing more than 1,000 people at present had struggled to survive even before the crisis despite numerous changes of ownership and management. It is currently owned by the British-registered firm Rhinoville Property Limited.