Violent factory blast in Sherbrooke injures 17

An explosion at a business in an industrial area of Sherbrooke, Que., has sent 17 people to hospital, five with major burns.

One person was airlifted to Montreal for treatment, according to a spokesperson with the Sherbrooke University Hospital Centre.

A Code Orange was issued at the hospital and all on-duty doctors were called to assist with the injured.

The explosion happened at about 1:30 p.m. ET at Neptune Technologies, located in the industrial area on Pépin Street.

The blast sparked a fire at the site and thick black smoke could be seen for kilometres.

Firefighters arrived quickly and buildings surrounding the site were evacuated.

By 3:45 p.m., fire officials said the fire had been brought under control, but that they were still in emergency mode.

A fire department spokesman said that all 65 employees had been accounted for.

Three people were initially reported missing but have since been located.

Police set up a large perimeter around the site and asked people to stay away from the scene because of the risk of toxic exposure.

Environment Quebec said the toxicity concern stemmed from the plant's 15,000-litre acetone reserve, which was struck by the fire.

Acetone is flammable, and when ingested can cause irritation.

Transport Quebec closed Highway 410 in both directions between Highway 10 and de Portland Street to divert traffic from the area.

It's unclear what caused the blast.

"It's too early to tell right now. Our investigators will have to figure out the point of origin as well as what caused it," said Gaetan Drouin, a local fire chief.

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