Tuesday, 20 September 2011

10 h 17 factory exploded in Toulouse tremble

The first bang ... For some, it's a flat tire noise, others describe a more deaf. The Toulouse have hardly time to wonder, on the morning of September 21, 2001, another bang burst eardrums. Drop ceilings, windows explode. Blood. It's panic.

 At 10 h 17, the September 21, 2001, Toulouse changed forever. We are ten days after the attacks in New York. Each Toulousain think that a bomb has exploded near his home. At home, the supermarket, in his business, near the school ... Looking up to heaven, yet we see an orange mushroom rise in the south ... in the area of ​​chemical cluster.

AZF is just exploding. Hangar 221, which are stored ammonium nitrate downgraded. Instead of the warehouse, a huge crater. Around, the skeletons of buildings, smoke, dust.

The survivors are dazed, in shock. The wounded are haggard and some are still under the rubble, unconscious. "I was on a forklift. I found myself thrown several meters behind the cars. I do not know how I landed here, "said one worker. Employees or subcontractors of AZF, twenty-two are killed by the blast.
Lieutenant Colonel Patrice Gerber, then head of the emergency center at the barracks Boulingrain, is the first firefighter to enter the Toulouse plant. He says: "It was the Apocalypse! At the time, it's hard to understand that we are not in a movie. Operational and reflexes are set up: Our mission is to rescue. "

Joined by other firefighters, Lieutenant Colonel Patrice Gerber advance in the rubble of the factory: "There is smoke. It is not clear. The landscape is lunar. We discover a crater. Then we see the shadows: they are people. They are covered with dust and blood "...

Ten years later, Patrice Gerber remembers the "silence" impressive reign on the chemical cluster. A wall of silence that follows the crash of the explosion. "Our obsession bring quick relief to those people around us we felt trapped under the rubble, and we were told that they were there," says Lieutenant Colonel Gerber. Adding: "Our emergency preparedness culture has enabled us to face the greatest industrial disaster ever known in France since the Second World War."

Around the plant is desolate. Cars smashed on the ring road, roofs torn off houses destroyed, ravaged buildings. Acrid smoke grating grooves. Hailstones rain down from the sky brown: it is the charred grains of ammonium nitrate from the hangar 221 at the AZF factory.

Toulouse shook: as an earthquake measuring 3.3, equivalent to the explosion of 100 tons of TNT. The waves rocking the basements of the city. The psychiatric hospital GĂ©rard Marchant, located opposite the factory, is upside down. In some patient rooms, the ceilings are breached.

In a meeting room fortunately unoccupied, leaving only rubble: the broken glass, like daggers, have rent offices and chairs. A guard at the hospital said later: "I thought it was the end of the world. I walked, arms crossed, and waited ... "

It is not the only one who thought his last hour had come. At the School of Chemistry, on the other side of the bypass, the blast devastated buildings. Berthe Ratsimba, lecturer, is a victim of the blast: "I thought my lungs would implode ... I feel like an insect being crushed. The wall was behind me ... "

At the time of the explosion, the teacher turned back to the window and started into a ball ... "I really thought I was dying. When I left the building, I found myself in a black fog ... to breathe the crap that probably one day will emerge. "

Close to schools, it is terror. The classrooms were destroyed. Luckily, children are at play, and escape, mostly in shards of glass that project like little daggers. It was no exception. Oustalous school teacher to a school near the chemical cluster, Jacqueline Travers remained inside the facility. She made copies, "We had just completed assessments CE2. The children were outside. I took advantage of the break to prepare for work Monday. "

At 10 h 17, the teacher feels the ground tremble: "Scary. Instinctively, I turned around. " This movement was probably saved. The impact of broken glass have reached the back of the head and back. It is blood, but does not see it. Jacqueline Travers think first of children. In the primary, no one is hurt. While in kindergarten, some toddlers were shards of glass. The 'instit' have children leave school devastated, and took refuge on land, waiting parents, distraught.

Gallieni in high school, while he is still in court at the time of the explosion, a high school student was hit by a piece of metal thrown like a rocket from the AZF factory. The body of Mousthoupha Bourra, 24, is literally cut in half. The 24-year high school student, a native of Mayotte, is killed instantly.

Death lurks other Toulouse, as Huguette Amiel, a retiree, who combed his hair in his apartment before going to market. Christophe Esponda, a young electrician EDF does not survive the explosion. A client who is in the lobby of the garage Speedy, another in Brush, an employee of the SNPE, located near AZF, are among the victims. Justice holds the number of 31 dead.

And 20,800 injured. The blast has taken its toll. Speedy the garage, there is only a skeleton structure, the walls are ruptured. The magazine Wallpaper Midi is destroyed. The roof of the restaurant "Le Pic" collapsed. The filing of the Semvat, over one hundred buses are shredded.

The commercial and industrial area that surrounds the AZF factory is destroyed. The districts built in the sixties near the pole undergo chemical explosion head-on. In Reynerie, the Faourette to Papus, the windows exploded, ceilings are falling. The people out in fear. Still the silence of death ... The city stops. The wounded out of their car bewildered, their home. No more bus only runs. The ring is off. As the phone. Chaos. The people of Toulouse are in shock. Some flee. They will pick up their children to school, their spouses at the office. They go home, to discover, sometimes the house destroyed.
Others are spare.

Although himself wounded in the blast, Georges Paillas, employee of AZF is a tourniquet on the arm of a young delivery girl badly injured outside the factory. He saves his life. Volunteer firefighters arrived to lend a hand to their colleagues. Police rest returned to service.

The psychologists of the hospital Marchant found their actions to emergency care for victims. Nurses attached to their patients, major psychotic: they are one with the sick to protect them.

A postmistress, Sylvie Kichenassamy, 44, improvised ambulance. It carries 17 people in his car toward the center of AZF rescue based in La-Croix-de-Pierre, three injured will not survive.

On the streets empty of cars, you see teenagers and they are dusty, sometimes with blood. These are high school students Deodat de Severac seeking to return home. Some will walk for miles.

The air is charged with threats. The lungs are irritated. The fear of a cloud of toxic gas scares Toulouse in the south. They put wet handkerchiefs to their noses. On the radio, a message recommends that they remain confined to their homes. Confined? They have no windows ...

Relief are overwhelmed. And then the ministers arrive. The head of state, Jacques Chirac, too.Night falls on a devastated city, a prey to looters.

In the sky, we hear the sound of helicopters. Anxiety grips the heart of an octogenarian: "I thought it was war."

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