A 40 hectare area around the warehouse was destroyed by the blast. Around 400 houses were destroyed, 15 streets incinerated and a total of 1,500 homes were damaged, leaving 1,250 people homeless - essentially obliterating the neighbourhood of Roombeek. Ten thousand residents were evacuated. The damage bill eventually exceeded € 450 million.
It appeared that the fire began in the work area of the central building where some 900 kg of fireworks were stored. This fire then extended to two full containers that had been stored illegally outside of the building. A reaction of explosions eventually led to the ignition.The fireworks bunker ignition caused the explosion of 177 tons of fireworks, virtually destroying the area. Dutch telephone voting in the Eurovision Song Contest 2000 was suspended to free up capacity for the emergency services communications, as a mark of respect to the casualties and due to Dutch Television ending transmission of the Contest during its running, to show breaking news coverage.
One theory for the scale of the disaster was that workers had accidentally left open internal doors which might have contained the fire and subsequent blast. Theoretically such an explosion was highly unlikely because the fireworks were stored in bunkers specifically designed to minimize the risk.
The week prior to the explosion, SE had been audited and met all official safety regulations, and the fireworks had been legally imported and inspected as safe by Dutch authorities. Many residents from affected Roombeek—a poor, working class neighbourhood—complained of governmental neglect and deliberate non-interest and inaction, arguing the whole disaster was an accident waiting to happen. .