Police search for clues after explosion

2013-10-15 00:00

PORT ELIZABETH — The police were still combing the crater left by a giant explosion at a factory for clues last night while at least 40 workers were being treated for injuries.

Brad Rolfe, co-owner of Rolfe Laboratories, which manufactures perfume, deodorants and bath salts, yesterday rushed from the company’s head office in KwaZulu-Natal to Middelburg to visit the staff.

Rolfe said while the situation was being investigated, all the company could do was to support staff who had been injured in the explosion.

Police spokesperson Captain Stefanie Smith said all the staff of the Rolfe Laboratories factory were accounted for, but at least 40 workers at the factory had suffered light to serious burn wounds.

The explosion shook the small town in the Great Karoo yesterday morning at around 8 am. One eyewitness said she thought it was an earthquake.

“There was an almighty bang and a lot of noise. I ran out and saw how the whole building shook and there were people running from the building,” said Riaan Gouws, an employee at the Haysted and Ford retailer next to the Rolfe factory. “The whole morning, flames continued to erupt from the building,” he said.

Captain John Fobian of the disaster management unit said the police are investigating all possible causes for the explosion and the fire that followed it. “It is at this stage not yet clear precisely what happened, but the police will investigate arson,” Fobian said.

By late afternoon yesterday, firefighters had managed to douse the flames and K9 units had started to scour the area for clues almost as soon as they declared the scene safe. Fobian said the investigation would continue today with investigators from the Department of Labour and that the building would be under guard all night.

Spokesperson for Eastern Cape Department of Health Sizwe Kupelo said 22 people who had suffered light burn wounds had been treated at Wilhelm Stahl hospital in Middelburg.

Late yesterday, unconfirmed rumours were still circulating that two people had died in the explosion.

Paramedics transfer one of 18 seriously injured workers from the Rolfe Laboratory factory in Middelburg to an ambulance at the Dora Nginza hospital shortly after the worker had been flown by helicopter to Port Elizabeth. At least 40 people were injured in an factory explosion and fire yesterday.

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