KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan – At least 24 people were killed and 271 others injured when several underground gas explosions ripped through Taiwan’s second-largest city overnight, hurling concrete through the air and blasting long trenches in the streets, authorities said today.
The series of explosions about midnight Thursday and early today struck a district where several petrochemical companies operate pipelines alongside the sewer system in Kaohsiung, a southwestern port with 2.8 million people.
The fires were believed caused by a leak of propene, a petrochemical material not intended for public use, but the source of the gas was not immediately clear, officials said.
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 passersby helped other victims on a sidewalk. Broadcaster ETTV showed rows of large fires sending smoke into the night sky.
Four firefighters were among the 24 dead and 271 people were injured, the National Fire Agency said. The firefighters had been at the scene investigating reports of a gas leak when the explosions occurred, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported.
At least five blasts shook the city, Taiwan’s Premier Jiang Yi-huah said.
Chang Jia-juch, the director of the Central Disaster Emergency Operation Center, 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 is burned away.
The source of the leak was unknown. Chang said, however, that propene was not for public use.
Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu said several petrochemical companies have pipelines built along the sewage system in Chian-Chen district.
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