Witnesses described the sky lighting up in the glow of an enormous fireball.
Firefighters were battling blazes at the Sunrise Propane Industrial Gases facility hours later. One firefighter reportedly died, and some residents suffered minor injuries.
The series of explosions starting in the early hours of this morning also shut down Canada’s busiest highway and a part of the subway system, snarling traffic.
Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash said the firefighter was transported to hospital and that his death “appears to be” related to the explosions.
Toronto fire services division commander Bob O’Hallarn said earlier they were close to extinguishing all the burning tanker trucks, significantly reducing the risk of another explosion at the fill-up facility.
“I think we were very lucky,” said O’Hallarn, who was surprised by the extent of one of the explosions. “There was a very large of amount of fire when we arrived. It could have been much more serious.”
Fearing the air had turned toxic, police used bullhorns to order the estimated 12,500 residents within a mile radius (2.6sq km) of the plant to flee their homes immediately.
Air quality tests later in the day showed the fumes were not toxic.
Some residents said the blast was so forceful they felt their homes rock as though they had been struck by an earthquake.
“It was just a tremendous explosion and blew all the windows out of the house, just blew the house up, and I just managed to get out of there in time,” said Robert Helman, who was covered in cuts and bruises as he fled his home.
About a dozen terrified residents – some clad in pyjamas and housecoats – found their way on foot to nearby Yorkdale shopping mall, where security offered them water and a place to rest.
He said most of the residents were evacuated to a nearby university. He said it could he hours before residents are allowed back.
O’Hallarn saw at least five heavily damaged homes and said windows were blown out a fair distance from the scene. He also saw large pieces of metal on the street and said it looked like they were from tanker trucks.
A truck driver at the facility checked himself into a local hospital and seems to be OK, O’Hallarn said.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald