Factory shuts down in Austria as steel fire brings huge economic losses

VIENNA –(Xinhua) – Austria and its two states of Salzburg and Upper Austria on Sunday declared an emergency a steel mill fire brought conditions too dangerous for access.

“The safety of the site staff in over-exposure to the smoke and gas mixes with the fire raise the danger level above the threshold required to allow an access and rescue operation,” a statement published in the statement by Salzburg and Upper Austria governments said.

“This risk level has been exhausted at the site located in the Industrial Nationalist Spree in the town of Parlo in Upper Austria. Additionally, in Upper Austria, the latest fire losses have exceeded the amount needed to cover the fire-fighting operations, the State Police reported on Monday.

On Sunday evening, specialists reached that level and therefore have made the decision to temporarily shut down the complex, which is a part of a steel complex dating back to 1820.

The complex was recently entered into state administration due to the threat of insolvency of its owner, a drop in global demand for steel and of its related secondary products.

Initial emergency talks regarding the next action and the necessity to immediately enact the closure plan began on Monday morning, the statement said.

Emergency measures, including the temporary closure of a major railway line near the regional capital of Andermatt and possible reduced train speed, had also been ordered.

The spokesman for the State Railways, Ronald Stehm, said on Sunday night that railway traffic was normal.

The steel complex, spread over more than 44.6 square kilometres in Upper Austria, belongs to automotive company Xylem, which declared an emergency after the fire began around 11:30am.

The steel company urged users to wait at least 20 minutes before using potentially volatile chemicals in order to reduce risks related to fire spread.

Citigroup also warned that the fires were likely to cause $700 million worth of damage to the factory.

The regional governor of Upper Austria, Bernhard Weber, also said Monday on Sunday that damages were likely to be “significantly higher” and more than the amount first estimated.

Meanwhile, the office of Upper Austria prosecutor Herman Knecht confirmed Sunday afternoon that the state judicial authority will immediately investigate major companies from which the government of Upper Austria purchased steel products, as well as from which steel had been produced.

To head such an investigation, the prosecutor said the State Government will apply for the legal authority of the prosecutor’s office to be granted. He also said it is difficult to say whether it is necessary to specify which companies should be included in the investigation, but that the authorities have time before their request will be approved.

Meanwhile, Knecht added that some small companies might not be inspected at all. According to the prosecutor, the prosecutor has the authority to conduct an investigation at the direction of the state government and with the support of the relevant authorities.

The director of the coalfield, Andreas Ste. Hund, told the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation NDR late on Sunday that no one had been seriously injured as a result of the accident, but a lack of oxygen made it hard for the rescue services to get close to the site of the blaze.

“When we got to the tunnel underneath the steel mill, we found that there were a large number of people who had become unresponsive and unconscious. We had to move forward very slowly to save them,” the director said.

This article was originally published on Xinhua news agency.

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