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Dutch firefighters tackle blaze at chemical plant

Local authorities told residents to stay indoors last night as some 150 firefighters attempted to smother a huge blaze that had been raging for hours at a chemical storage and packing company.

The fire started in the early afternoon at Chemie-Pack Nederland BV in an industrial estate in the southern town of Moerdijk, sending a towering plume of thick smoke into the air and causing several powerful blasts, apparently as storage tanks exploded.

Police spokesman Willem van Hooijdonk told national broadcaster NOS that "poisonous, flammable and corrosive" chemicals were stored at the company, but Moerdijk mayor Wim Denie told a press conference that measurements had not detected fumes at a level that could form a health risk.

With the fire still blazing late Wednesday, firefighters said they would extinguish the flames under a "blanket of foam" and warned it could initially increase the amount of smoke.

Moerdijk municipality advised residents to stay indoors, saying the smoke "can cause irritation of the airways and eyes" but adding that it was not expected to have any lasting effect.

Authorities also closed off the nearby A16 highway to traffic and warned local farmers to move livestock indoors so they did not eat soot falling from the smoke plume.

Police said none of the company's 50 staff were injured. The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

Residents in parts of the nearby city of Dordrecht also were warned to keep windows and doors shut and boats on the nearby Hollands Diep waterway was halted.

Some 150 firefighters were tackling the blaze and the government sent three airforce firefighting trucks to the scene.