Enschede fireworks disaster
The Enschede fireworks disaster (known in the Netherlands as the Vuurwerkramp meaning "fireworks disaster") was a catastrophic fireworks explosion occurring at the SE Fireworks depot on 13 May 2000 at 13.00 GMT, in the eastern Dutch city of Enschede.
The fire led to an enormous explosion which killed 23 people including four firefighters, and injured 947. 400 homes were destroyed and 1500 buildings damaged. The first explosion had a strength in the order of 800 kg TNT equivalence, while the strength of the final explosion was within the range of 4000–5000 kg TNT. The biggest blast was felt up to 30 kilometres (19 mi) from the scene. Fire crews were called in from across the border in Germany to help battle the blaze; it was brought under control by the end of the day.
SE Fireworks was a major importer of fireworks from China and supplier to pop concerts and major festive events in the Netherlands. Prior to the disaster it had a good safety record and met all safety audits.
Dutch Television interrupted transmission of the Eurovision Song Contest 2000 midway through the programme to show breaking news coverage. Dutch telephone voting in the contest was also suspended to free up capacity for the emergency services communications.
A 40-hectare (100 acres, or 0.4 square kilometre) area around the warehouse was destroyed by the blast. Enschede was built around the SE Fireworks factory, which is the only one in the Netherlands to be located in a residential area. This caused around 400 houses to be destroyed, 15 streets incinerated and a total of 1,500 homes damaged, leaving 1,250 people homeless, essentially obliterating the neighbourhood of Roombeek. Ten thousand residents were evacuated, and damages eventually exceeded 1 billion guilders (€454 million).
The Dutch Government has warned that potentially harmful asbestos has been released into the air by the explosion. The fire spread to the nearby Grolsch Beer brewery which had an asbestos roof. It was later demolished and closed; a replacement opened close by in Boekelo in 2004.
It appeared that the fire began in the work area of the central building where some 900 kg of fireworks were stored. This fire then extended to two full containers that had been stored illegally outside the building. The fireworks bunker ignition caused the explosion of 177 tons of fireworks, virtually destroying the area.
One theory for the scale of the disaster was that workers had accidentally left open internal fire doors which might have contained the fire and subsequent blast. Theoretically such an explosion was considered highly unlikely because the fireworks were stored in bunkers specifically designed to minimize risk. However, the shipping containers were arranged closely together at ground level, not separated either by customary earth walls or any other form of partitioning and the doors were left open.
One week prior to the explosion, SE had been audited and met all official safety regulations and the fireworks had been legally imported and inspected as safe by Dutch authorities. Many residents from affected Roombeek—a poor, working-class neighbourhood—complained of governmental neglect and deliberate non-interest and inaction, arguing the whole disaster was an accident waiting to happen.
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. Residents and town councillors stated they were not even aware there was a fireworks warehouse in their area. Later in the court case, the judge said that city officials failed to take steps even when they knew laws had been broken. They acted "completely incomprehensibly" by allowing the company to expand, for fear that the city would have to pay the cost of moving SE Fireworks to another location.
The cause of the fire has never been officially verified. One possibility was arson, with several arrests being made by the Dutch police, but the fire department stated that accidental ignition via an electrical short circuit could not be totally ruled out.
On May 20 Dutch authorities issued an international arrest warrant for the two managers of the company, Rudi Bakker and Willie Pater, after they fled their homes, which were empty when searched. Willie Pater handed himself in on the same day, and Rudi Bakker the day after.
In April 2002, the owners were sentenced to six months' imprisonment for violation of environmental and safety regulations and dealing in illegal fireworks alongside a fine of €2,250 each. However, they were both acquitted of the more serious charges of negligence for the fire.
In May 2003 Arnhem Appeals Court acquitted 36-year-old André de Vries of arson. Almelo Court had originally (May 2002) tried and convicted de Vries of arson and sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment.
In February 2005 after a four-and-a-half-year legal battle, the six-month sentence of the owners was increased to twelve. As only two thirds of the sentence needed to be served, of which three months was done previously, they only spent five more months incarcerated. Directors Rudi Bakker and Willy Pater were convicted for culpable homicide, negligence, environmental breaches and illegally storing fireworks.
A total of €8.5m in compensation was awarded to the victims of the Enschede firework factory explosion according to the organisation in charge of distributing the compensation, the UPV, having assessed 3,519 claims. Three hundred people received cash for incurring extra costs, 136 people received money for loss of income, and 1,477 people received compensation for health problems.
Dutch fire safety regulations
The SE Fireworks disaster led to intensified safety regulations in the Netherlands concerning the storage and sale of fireworks. The Roombeek area that was destroyed by the blast has since been rebuilt. Since the catastrophe, three illegal fireworks depots were closed down in the Netherlands.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Enschede fireworks disaster.|
- Video of the explosion
- YouTube (Dutch)
- In pictures: Firework blaze – BBC News
- Satellite Map Imagery – Google Maps