The company that owns the controversial ammonia storage tank in Haifa on Wednesday appealed a court order to empty the tank amid fear that it could rupture and kill tens of thousands of people.

On Sunday the the Haifa Court for Local Affairs gave the Haifa Group, a fertilizer producer that operates the tank, 10 days to empty and shut the tank.

In the appeal, the company slammed the Haifa municipality as “demagogues” trying to “to sow fear among the public.”

The petition seemed to mark an about-face for the company, which on Sunday said it would “respect the court’s decision.”

The Haifa Group also said that emptying the ammonia storage tank “will eliminate the operations of whole industrial sectors,” and deal a serious blow to the local economy.

The Haifa Municipality said that the Haifa Group “is ignoring the court’s decision” and called on the state “to stand on the side of the residents of Haifa and the cities of Haifa Bay and not allow the Haifa Group to ridicule the residents.”

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav and Professor Ehud Keinan speak at a press conference at the Haifa Municipality regarding a report on the dangers of the ammonia tank in the Haifa bay. January 31, 2017. (Flash90)

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav and Professor Ehud Keinan speak at a press conference at the Haifa Municipality regarding a report on the dangers of the ammonia tank in the Haifa bay. January 31, 2017. (Flash90)

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav called on the Haifa Group to “cease threatening” the city and its residents in a Facebook post Tuesday. It was an apparent reference to previous statements by the company regarding the economic effect the ammonia storage tank’s closure would have on the city and its environs.

Sunday’s decision followed a ruling from the court last week that ordered the temporary closure of the storage tank.

The Haifa municipality submitted its petition for the closure of the ammonium facility following the publication last month of a report it commissioned that found the port city’s ammonia operations posed a serious risk to the population.

The report was also submitted to the High Court of Justice as part of a legal dispute between Haifa Group and the municipality.

If ruptured, the vast ammonia storage tank would suffocate 16,000 victims under a toxic cloud, the report said. The tank could “fall apart tomorrow morning,” the report’s author, chemistry professor Ehud Keinan, said at a press conference to release the report on January 31, held at the municipality.

Haifa's ammonia tank (screen capture/Channel 2)

Haifa’s ammonia tank (screen capture/Channel 2)

“If the tank breaks apart we are talking about 16,000 fatalities,” Keinan warned.

But an even worse danger, the report said, is posed by a delivery ship carrying over 16,000 tons of ammonia that arrives at the Haifa container once a month. If its cargo were released to the air, it could kill as many as 600,000 in the bay area, according to the report.

Last year, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened to target Haifa’s ammonia facilities with rockets in the next conflict with Israel. He quoted an unnamed Israeli official saying that a strike on the northern city’s ammonia storage tanks would cause tens of thousands of fatalities.

Hours after Nasrallah issued the explicit threat to strike Haifa, then-environmental protection minister Avi Gabbai said he had ordered that the ammonia storage facility be moved to the Negev desert. The order was never implemented.

Keinan wrote the report along with 10 other experts. Its findings were presented to the Haifa municipality several months ago, but were only made public last month.