Terrible Thursday for the city of Buenos Aires: toxic gas scare in the morning with almost panic situations and flooding mid afternoon by the same rains that helped clear the cloud hovering over residents with sore throats and irritated eyes.
The cloud of toxic gas rose early Thursday near the central port area and remained hanging until rain and wind helped disperse it. Argentine government officials at the scene confirmed that a shipping container's contents had set on fire, later denied, causing a cloud of gas to spread around the city.
The container was said to have been holding highly chemical pesticides and insecticides.
The incident provoked a temporary panic on initial discovery of the fire as the container was first reported to have contained mercury.
However as the cloud was dispersing torrential rains poured on Buenos Aires flash flooding the low parts or the city, interrupting public transport, with partial blackouts and tens of abandoned or parked private cars floating.
Argentina’s national secretary for security Sergio Berni cleared up the morning chaos and mixed reportage, confirming that the fire had been put out and making it clear that the chemical substances inside the container were of “little danger.”
However local news agencies reported that the staunch smell of rotten waste and irritating to breathe and for the eyes was reported in a radius of five to seven miles from the port including such emblematic neighbourhoods as Congress, Government House, the financial centre and some of the most expensive areas in downtown Buenos Aires.
Much of the commercial and financial activity was suspended in the area under the influence of the toxic gas cloud.
Federal Police and Naval Command officers earlier advised that people keep their windows closed as a precaution and pedestrians to cover their mouths and nostrils with a handkerchief. Argentina’s meteorological service informed that the strong smell was being spreads across to the south of the city due to “strong south-easterly winds.”
“The situation is completely under control. What needs to be highlighted is the brave decision of the Federal Police, who risked their lives and opened the container, not knowing what was inside,” Sergio Berni said.
“There was a pesticide inside the container whose main ingredient was solid carbonate. Now forensics are going to analyse all of the evidence to work out what started the whole thing”, added Berni.
Port authorities where the incident started denied there had been a fire but rather that the pesticides gases concentrated in the container and emanating effectively was the cause of the cloud that covered much of the port area in the morning.
“The substance is not toxic to inhale but it is by contagion or ingestion” warned the port authorities who said they were also waiting for the results of the different experts’ reports.
Meantime rescue teams that had been sent out for the toxic gas emergency had to appeal to ropes and light zodiacs to help stranded city dwellers and visitors to safe places.