Asia-Pacific

Chinese chemical plant explosion kills dozens, shatters nearby windows

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A chemical plant explosion at a factory in eastern China has killed dozens, shattering windows of surrounding homes and sending plumes of smoke skyward.

The death toll from a huge explosion at a chemical plant in eastern China surged to 47 on Friday, making it one of the country's worst industrial accidents in recent years.

More than 600 people are receiving medical treatment following Thursday afternoon's blast at the industrial park in Yancheng, said the city government on its official Twitter-like Weibo account.

Among them, at least 90 are seriously injured. City officials had previously said that at least 12 people were killed and 30 injured in the explosion in Jiangsu province.

The explosion was so powerful that it apparently triggered a small earthquake, knocked down several factory buildings and shattered the windows of homes a few kilometres away.

"We knew we'd be blown up one day," said one 60-year-old woman surnamed Xiang. 

She said she had harboured concerns about safety and pollution at the site for a long time. 

An injured person is helped by rescuers near the site of an explosion at a chemical industrial park in Xiangshui county, in east China's Jiangsu province.
An injured person is helped by rescuers near the site of an explosion at a chemical industrial park in Xiangshui county, in east China's Jiangsu province.
FEATURECHINA

The latest industrial incident to rock China in recent years occurred at around 2.50 pm (0650 GMT) at a facility run by Tianjiayi Chemical in Yancheng, Jiangsu province, city officials said on Twitter-like Weibo.

Hundreds of rescuers have been dispatched to the scene, local authorities said, and more than 3000 people have been evacuated from the blast site.

The blaze from the explosion has been extinguished, said local officials Friday, after firefighters battled raging flames through the night. Three chemical tanks and five other areas had been on fire.

Authorities, who are investigating the cause of the accident, said an unspecified number of people were taken into police custody.

The chemical facility involved in the explosion belonged to Tianjiayi Chemical, a firm with 195 employees established in 2007.

Rescuers work near the site of an explosion at a chemical industrial park in Xiangshui county, in east China's Jiangsu province.
Rescuers work near the site of an explosion at a chemical industrial park in Xiangshui county, in east China's Jiangsu province.
FEATURECHINA

An aerial view of the blast area showed a large swath of destruction in the industrial park, where multiple fires had initially raged.

City officials said on Weibo that the investigation was ongoing.

"At present, on-site rescue is still going on... The cause of the accident is under investigation," officials said.

Rescuers interviewed by state broadcaster CCTV repeatedly described the ground situation as "complex", adding that the focus was on trying to pull people from the site.

Dense smoke rises from the chemical plant of Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical Co., Ltd. after an explosion occurred, in Yancheng city, east China's Jiangsu province.
Dense smoke rises from the chemical plant of Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical Co., Ltd. after an explosion occurred, in Yancheng city, east China's Jiangsu province.
ICHPL Imaginechina

Buildings knocked down 

Images broadcast by state media showed an enormous explosion, with flames engulfing the top of the chemical plant and thick grey smoke billowing into the air.

The explosion occurred following a fire in a fertiliser factory, according to official news agency Xinhua, citing local authorities.

Workers near the site of the blast were trapped after shockwaves from the explosion knocked down nearby factory buildings, the report said.

Workers covered in blood were seen running out of the factory, Xinhua added, citing witnesses.

Pictures from a local news outlet showed a classroom with blown out windows, children's backpacks scattered among broken glass and hastily abandoned schoolwork.

Footage put up late Thursday by CCTV showed firefighters carrying someone on a stretcher to an ambulance. Another clip showed rescuers walking around a darkened neighbourhood as a voice says "the team is here to look for anyone who might be trapped".

Strong winds around the site helped disperse fumes though there were concerns about their toxicity, Yancheng's environment bureau said in a later statement, adding that residents in the surrounding areas have been "basically evacuated".

While there is a small river next to the site, it is not used as a drinking source, the agency added.

Firefighters walk past the site of a factory explosion in a chemical industrial park in Xiangshui County of Yancheng in  eastern China's Jiangsu province.
Firefighters walk past the site of a factory explosion in a chemical industrial park in Xiangshui County of Yancheng in eastern China's Jiangsu province.
Xinhua

History of industrial disasters 

Industrial accidents are common in China, where safety regulations are often poorly enforced.

In November, a gas leak caused an explosion at a PVC production plant in a northern Chinese city that will host the 2022 Winter Olympics, killing 24 people and injuring 21 others.

A report published by local authorities in February revealed that the Chinese chemical firm responsible for the accident had concealed information and misled investigators.

Last July, a blast at a chemical plant in southwest Sichuan province left 19 dead and 12 injured. The company had undertaken illegal construction that had not passed safety checks, according to local authorities.

And in 2015, giant chemical blasts in a container storage facility killed at least 165 people in the northern port city of Tianjin.

The explosions caused more than $1 billion in damage and sparked widespread anger at a perceived lack of transparency over the accident's causes and its environmental impact.

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