Asia

Taiwan petrochemical firm blamed for deadly blast

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Media captionDrone footage shows the chaos of the gas blasts, as Cindy Sui reports

Taiwanese authorities have blamed a local petrochemical firm for a series of deadly explosions that killed 28 people on Thursday night in Kaohsiung.

The company, LCY, failed to shut off a pipeline despite detecting a drop in pressure, officials said.

LCY said it will cooperate with the investigation.

The search for two missing firemen is continuing, though there is little hope that they will be found alive.

Almost 300 people were injured in the explosions, which left a trail of devastation in the centre of the city.

Witnesses reported huge fireballs soaring into the air. Officials said there were at least five blasts.

A statement from Kaohsiung city authorities said that LCY had known about the drop in pressure but had continued to transmit propylene gas.

By the time it shut off the supply, some 10 tons of propylene gas had already leaked into the ground, a local official told the BBC.

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Image caption Taiwan's president Ma Ying-jeou visited the site of the explosions on Saturday

Officials added that LCY failed to notify authorities of the leak in time, preventing a complete evacuation of the area.

Chen Chin-der, the director of Kaohsiung's Environmental Protection Bureau, said authorities were only able to identify the gas minutes before the blasts started.

The CEO of LCY said that the firm would accept full responsibility if it turned out to be at fault.

Full investigation

Taiwan's president, Ma Ying-jeou, visited the site of the explosion on Saturday, and vowed a full investigation.

"Everyone is concerned about the cause of the incident and the cabinet has set up a task force to investigate and hope to find the cause in the shortest possible time" he said.

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Media captionCindy Sui reports: ''The strength of the blast was so powerful that it tore up this entire street for about one kilometre''

"Even though this incident happened in Kaohsiung, every Taiwanese person's heart is hurt" he added.

Kaohsiung's mayor, Chen Chu, said the explosions had "shocked residents tremendously".

"I instructed relevant units to thoroughly inspect the pipelines and call for the central government to review how to properly locate them so residents do not live under invisible threats and to prevent another tragedy", she said in a statement.

Mourning

Taiwan's Premier Jiang Yi-huan announced three days of national mourning, to start on 5 August.

Flags will be flown at half-mast at government buildings and schools, to mourn both the Kaohsiung blast victims as well as the 48 people who died in a plane crash last Wednesday.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The blasts ripped through the southern city of Kaohsiung late on Thursday
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Aerial photographs show long stretches of destroyed road in central Kaohsiung

Meanwhile, the search for two missing firemen is continuing, our correspondent Cindy Sui reports.

Sniffer dogs and sensor equipment are being used to search the rubble on one of the streets where the explosions took place.


Cindy Sui, BBC News, Kaohsiung

Image copyright AP
Image caption Br Friday most fires were out as residents began to assess the devastation

The area where the explosions happened is just a short distance from the Kaohsiung City Hall, the popular Guanghua Night Market, the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Department Store and at least one major hotel.

Eyewitnesses and local residents reported smelling a strong gas odour about three hours before the explosions occurred. Many of them were worried and went outside.

One person wrote online that he called Kaohsiung City's hotline for residents but was told that firefighters had arrived on the scene and to go back home.

As he expressed anger to the hotline operator, he saw a large explosion. Manhole covers were blown three stories high. Many people lay injured on the street.

Another resident who lived nearby said that he thought it was an earthquake at first and then he heard something like a bomb. The electricity was cut off. He immediately woke up his wife and children and they quickly left their home.

Taiwanese fearful after pipeline blasts


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