One moment the neighborhood of Roombeek in the eastern Dutch city of Enschede was there, the next it was gone. Some 400 houses were destroyed and 15 streets obliterated within a 40 hectare (100 acre) area, with damage caused by a massive explosion rippling outwards to engulf a further 1,500 houses.
Nearly 1,000 people were injured, many seriously, and 22 had been killed.
Around 10,000 residents were subsequently evacuated and the final damage bill exceeded 450 million euros.
The culprit was a disastrous conflagration at the SE Fireworks facility. The company imported large quantities of fireworks from China for pyrotechnic displays at major events and boasted a good safety record. The premises had been inspected just one week before the accident, confirming the fact that relevant official regulations were being complied with. This made the subsequent catastrophe all the more puzzling, and the precise cause has never been determined.
What is known is that the chain of events leading to this huge detonation began with a fire in the central building, where a considerable quantity of fireworks was kept – either set by an arsonist or sparked by an electrical short-circuit. This ignited the stored fireworks and initiated a chain reaction. Next, two container-loads of fireworks – illegally stored outside the building – went up. Finally, the main bunker containing 177 tons of fireworks exploded in a massive fireball, sending a dense cloud of black smoke skywards.
This was an outcome that shouldn’t have been possible, as the warehouse had been carefully designed to isolate firework stores from any possible source of accidental ignition. It was suspected – but never proved – that internal safety doors had been left open by careless staff. After the event, two SE Fireworks managers were convicted of criminal negligence and received short prison sentences. The Roombeek area was rebuilt.
When was the Enschede Fireworks Warehouse Fire: May 13 2000
Where was the Enschede Fireworks Warehouse Fire: Enschede, Netherlands
What was the Enschede Fireworks Warehouse Fire death toll: 22 dead and 947 injured
You should know: The Eurovision Song Contest 2000 was taking place on May 13 and telephone voting in the Netherlands was suspended in the aftermath of the explosion, both as a mark of respect for presumed victims and to free up the communications networks for urgent use by emergency services.