Dock workers were pictured fleeing the area on foot. A truck carrying a second gas tank had been slowly reversing toward the ship moments before the explosion, and quickly altered its course to escape the yellow gas clouds.
According to authorities, the tank contained chlorine, a poisonous gas that can be pressurized and cooled to change it into a liquid so it can be shipped and stored. Chlorine is widely used in household products such as bleach, for waste sanitation, and in drinking water and pool water to kill harmful bacteria.
If the gas is inhaled or comes into contact with skin or eyes, however, it can cause burning pain, difficulty breathing and fluid in the lungs. Chlorine was used during World War I as a choking agent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Aqaba port, at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba off the Red Sea, near the border with Israel, is Jordan’s only seaport. The closest residential area is about 15 miles away, and Nidal Majali, the local commissioner for tourism and environment, told state media the effects of the gas leak were limited and there was no risk to public health.
City health authorities advised residents to close their windows and stay in their homes, according to state TV reports. Police and other emergency workers were among those treated for injuries sustained while responding the explosion, according to state media. Some 200 people were hospitalized.
Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh visited a hospital treating the injured on Monday, praising rescue workers for their speedy response to the incident, which he said reduced the severity of the injuries. The prime minister has commissioned an official investigation into the cause of the accident.