Twenty years later, Toulouse commemorates the deadly AZF explosion

Twenty years after the deadly explosion at the AZF plant in Toulouse, several victims ” associations refuse to appear alongside the representatives of Total, whom they hold responsible for the biggest French industrial disaster since 1945.

Elected territorial representatives, state representatives and some victims ‘ associations participated in the inauguration of a “memorial route” established around an already existing memorial, work of the artist Gilles Conan. Composed of nine panels, it traces the history of the factory, its industrial past, the disaster itself, then the post-disaster with the trials and the renewal of the site, explains the city of Toulouse.

As every year on September 21, sirens sounded at 10: 27 am, the time of the explosion, before the names of the 31 dead were ginned up. Although no member of the government made the trip, the French president and Prime minister paid tribute to the victims on their social networks.

A counter-commemoration

A little earlier, around 09: 30, another commemoration was held two kilometers away, at the roundabout known as September 21, in which the association of Disaster Victims of September 21 and the association “Never again”participate.

They boycotted the official ceremony, not being satisfied with the final result of the memorial route. They also categorically refuse to appear alongside Total representatives and former employees of the plant.

Because 20 years later and despite the final conviction of the former director of the site and the company, the association Mémoire et Solidarité d’anciens salariés d’AZF rejects the thesis adopted by the justice according to which the unfortunate mixture of chemicals, due to “negligence” or “breaches of obligations of prudence”, caused the explosion.

On 21 September 2001, more than 300 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a hangar at the AZF chemical complex, five km from the city center, exploded.

A seismic wave of 3.4 on the Richter scale was recorded, relayed by a sound wave carrying the sound of the detonation up to 80 km from the city, itself accompanied by a destructive and deadly blast effect.

In each district of Toulouse, residents believed an explosion occurred near their home, ten days after the September 11 attacks in the United States.

Conviction of ex-director and Total subsidiary

In addition to the 31 dead, the disaster left thousands injured. And tens of thousands of compensation cases have been opened, for personal injury or property damage.

The legal battle, which lasted 18 years, resulted in the conviction in 2017 of the former site director Serge Biechlin to 15 months suspended imprisonment and 45,000 euros fine.

The court fined the company that owns the factory and is a subsidiary of Total, Grande Paroisse, 225,000 euros.

Both were found guilty of “characterized misconduct” committed by “clumsiness”, “negligence” or “failure to act prudently”. Their cassation appeals were rejected on 17 December 2019.

Today, the chemical plant has disappeared, making way for a cancer research center and a photovoltaic power plant, but the epicenter of the explosion, the former “crater”, remains an unpolluted wasteland.

And on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the explosion, several historical, biographical, photographic and documentary works were published, often with the stated goal : to prevent this painful chapter of the history of the Pink City from gradually falling into oblivion.

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