Gas explosions kill at least 24 in Taiwan

At least five blasts shake Taiwan’s second-largest city, blasting trenches in the streets

Rescue personnel survey the wreckage after an explosion in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan. The explosion, caused by a gas leak in Taiwan’s second city, killed 24 people, injured over 270 and sent flames shooting 15 storeys into the air, a government agency said. Photograph: Michael Wang/Reuters

Rescue personnel survey the wreckage after an explosion in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan. The explosion, caused by a gas leak in Taiwan’s second city, killed 24 people, injured over 270 and sent flames shooting 15 storeys into the air, a government agency said. Photograph: Michael Wang/Reuters

Fri, Aug 1, 2014, 07:09

A series of underground gas explosions have killed at least 24 people and injured 271 in Taiwan’s second-largest city, hurling concrete through the air and blasting long trenches in the streets.

The series of overnight explosions struck a district where several petrochemical firms operate pipelines alongside the sewer system in Kaohsiung, a south-western port of 2.8 million people.

The fires were believed to have been caused by a leak of propene, often known as propylene, a petrochemical material not intended for public use, but the source of the gas was not immediately clear.

Video from the TVBS broadcaster showed residents searching for victims in shattered storefronts and rescuers pulling injured people from the rubble of a road and placing them on stretchers while passers-by helped other victims on a pavement. Broadcaster ETTV showed rows of large fires sending smoke into the night sky.

Four firefighters, at the scene investigating reports of a gas leak when the explosions occurred, were among the dead.

At least five blasts shook the city, Taiwan’s premier Jiang Yi-huah said.

Chang Jia-juch, director of the Central Disaster Emergency Operation Centre, said the leaking gas was most likely to be propene, meaning that the resulting fires could not be extinguished by water. He said emergency workers would have to wait until the gas burned away.

Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu said several petrochemical companies have pipelines built along the sewage system in Chian-Chen district, which has both factories and residential buildings.

“Our priority is to save people now. We ask citizens living along the pipelines to evacuate,” she said.

Power was cut off in the area, making it difficult for firefighters to search for others who might be buried in rubble.

Taiwan’s Central News Agency said the fire brigade received reports from residents of gas leakage at about 8.46pm and explosions started around midnight.

Closed-circuit television showed an explosion rippling through the floor of a motorcycle parking area, hurling concrete and other debris through the air. Mobile phone video captured the sound of an explosion as flames leapt at least 30 feet.

One of the explosions left a large trench running down the centre of a road, edged with piles of concrete slabs torn apart by the force of the blast. A damaged motorcycle lay in the crater and TVBS showed cars flipped over. The force of the initial blast also felled trees lining the street.

PA