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China gas blast: 12 killed, 140 injured; Xi orders nationwide safety check

The explosion in the city of Shiyan killed at least 12 people and injured more than 140, including 39 of them seriously, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported (Photo: AP)Premium
The explosion in the city of Shiyan killed at least 12 people and injured more than 140, including 39 of them seriously, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported (Photo: AP)

Rescue workers are uncertain how many people may still be trapped under the debris, according to a statement from the disaster management bureau in the city of Shiyan

Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered officials to check for safety risks ahead of the Chinese Communist Party’s 100th anniversary, the state-owned radio broadcaster reported Sunday, following a deadly gas explosion in Hubei province.

Xi told local authorities to “improve political sensitivity" and thoroughly investigate safety risks throughout the country to “create a good atmosphere" for the Party’s anniversary, according to China National Radio.

The explosion on Sunday morning in the city of Shiyan killed at least 12 people and injured more than 140, including 39 of them seriously, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported earlier. The cause of the incident is still under investigation, the report said.

Rescue workers are uncertain how many people may still be trapped under the debris, according to a statement from the disaster management bureau in the city of Shiyan.

Videos shot by witnesses and verified by Beijing News show several buildings reduced to rubble and rescuers carrying shocked survivors on stretchers.

The blast ripped through a vegetable market that was filled with shoppers and people eating breakfast, an eyewitness told state-run Global Times.

"I heard a loud bang and immediately ducked under the table, thinking it was an earthquake," a man who owns a small restaurant near the explosion site told the newspaper.

State broadcaster CCTV showed footage of buildings with charred walls and shattered windows.

Rescuers were seen lifting large slabs to pull out those trapped underneath.

The blast occurred in a two-story building that earlier housed a vehicle frame manufacturer.

Several survivors told local media that the gas pipeline had fallen into disrepair after the factory was moved last year.

"In March, workers from the gas company came and asked whether I got a smell of gas," one survivor who runs a stall in the market told local website Health Times.

"After asking around people they just left."

The explosion took place at about 6:30 am local time (22:30 GMT) and an investigation was underway to determine the cause of the blast, the statement said.

Around 900 residents in the area have been evacuated as surrounding buildings may have been damaged by the blast, the city government said.

About 2,000 rescue workers have been deployed on the site.

Images verified by Health Times show a firefighter who was also injured and a fire truck damaged by a second, smaller blast. The severely injured were airlifted to bigger hospitals.

Long lines of volunteers were seen outside blood banks as local hospitals put out a call for donors.

The Ministry of Emergency Management has also sent a team to assist with the rescue operation.

'Profound' lessons

The blast comes a day after eight people were killed and three others injured when toxic methyl formate leaked from a chemical handling facility in the southwestern city of Guiyang.

The blast appeared similar to one that occurred in the northeastern port of Qingdao in 2013, in which 55 people were killed when underground pipelines ripped open following a leak.

Frequent deadly accidents are usually traced to weak adherence to safety standards, poor maintenance and corruption among enforcement bodies. Those responsible are often handed harsh punishments, but high demand and the desire for profits often trump such concerns.

Among the worst accidents was a massive 2015 explosion at a chemical warehouse in the port city of Tianjin that killed 173 people, most of them firefighters and police officers. The blast was blamed on illegal construction and unsafe storage of volatile materials.

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