SHERBROOKE, Que. -- Rescuers found two bodies in the rubble of a chemical plant gutted by an explosion in Quebec's Eastern Townships on Thursday.
One survivor was pulled from the rubble of the Neptune Technologies and Bioresources plant in Sherbrooke, Que., after a blast rocked the building around 1:30 p.m.
"We had just finished lunch, we were about to go back out when we were told to evacuate," said one employee. "Then it exploded ... the ceiling fell on my head."
Nineteen people were injured, including four who were airlifted to a Montreal hospital with severe burns. Witnesses said some workers were burned from head to toe.
Officials said a fire ignited 15,000 litres of acetone, a common ingredient in cleaning agents and paint thinners.
"The company does extraction with acetone, a highly flammable solvent," former plant employee Pascal Filion told QMI Agency.
"A small spark can cause an explosion, it's like gasoline."
The blast was so powerful that walls collapsed and windows were blown out. By mid-afternoon, firefighters were busy looking for other possible victims, but the unstable state of the building slowed their work.
A huge plume of black smoke wafted into the air over the city, located about two hours east of Montreal.
"There are ... serious injuries, so we're talking about burns, people who were trapped under debris," fire chief Gaetan Drouin told reporters on the scene. "So it was non-stop work for our firefighters to try and find the victims to free them and to evacuate them by ambulance."
Officials cleared out an industrial park and public security, public health and environment officials were on site along with 50 firefighters.
Police established a large security perimeter due to fears of toxic smoke. The smoke headed to the nearby Rock Forest neighbourhood and residents are being warned to keep their doors and windows shut.