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Explosion at chemical waste plant

An explosion has rocked a chemical waste facility near Bremen in north-western Germany, injuring several people, police said.

Police said that one person was severely burned in the blast and that the explosion damaged a nearby residential area in the town of Ritterhude, which is in the county of Verden-Osterholz.

About 30 to 40 houses were damaged - some of them only 65ft (20m) from the facility - as the blast shattered windows, ripped doors from their frames and tore off roofs, police said. A few houses were in danger of collapsing.

The injured man was found in the rubble and several local residents were slightly injured, police and firefighters said.

The blast happened at 9pm local time and could be heard for miles, sparking an intense fire.

"We had always looked upon this facility with worry," Ritterhude's mayor Susanne Geils said. "We've always said that this company is out of place here."

Marcus Neumann, spokesman for the local Verden-Osterholz police, said authorities believe the injured man is a plant employee whose car was found outside the plant.

Mr Neumann said the employee responded to an alarm on his beeper, and drove from his home to the plant to investigate. He added that a second employee might be missing.

The spokesman said the cause of the blast was not clear, as the site was still not yet accessible to investigators.

It took four hours before firefighters could get the blaze under control, and they expected to work on extinguishing it through the morning hours.

The plant is owned by Organo Fluid, which specialises in recovering valuable solvents from mixtures of solvents.

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