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Deadly Gas Explosion Kills Dozens in Taiwan’s Port City

Kaohsiung Gas Explosion
Residents carry a wounded person following a blast in Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan early on August 1, 2014. Photographer: AFP

James Huang says firefighters had already cordoned off the area near his home when a main street exploded violently.

At least 27 people have been killed and 284 injured in a series of explosions thought to be caused by leaked gas in Taiwan’s second-most populous city on July 31. Thousands were left without power and water, vehicles were blown away and buildings were ripped apart. Four policemen and fire fighters were among the dead and six kilometers (3.7 miles) of city streets have been destroyed, municipal officials said.

The pavement of major thoroughfares had caved in to form 2-meter deep ditches stretching hundreds of meters, and store front windows were broken. Sanlih Television showed pictures of a car lodged in the third floor of a building while TVBS aired footage of rescue workers combing through rubble, looking for survivors.

Huang, 38, says his 60-year-old mother had warned him about a strong chemical odor in the neighborhood before fleeing the area herself, hours before the blasts. The Taipei-based United Daily News called them the deadliest gas explosions in Taiwan’s history.

Leaked Propylene

The cause of this week’s incident was still under investigation and initial assessments pointed to leaked propylene, a gas used in the production of plastics and fabrics, Taiwan’s Minister of Economic Affairs Chang Chia-juch said in a televised briefing.

“It sounded like a bomb, I thought mainland China was invading,” said Kang Shun-tian, 62, who had just gone to sleep on the third floor of the tire shop where he’s lived for 42 years. Rushing downstairs, Kang pointed to singed leaves on trees across the street and said he saw flames leaping more than three stories high.

Standing outside his home next to his blue Suzuki Vitara, now crushed by chunks of concrete, 42-year-old David Liu said he thought an earthquake had shaken the building.

The blasts cut gas supplies to 23,600 households and power to 8,473 households, while 13,500 homes were without water as of 3 p.m. yesterday, according to a statement on the Taiwan Ministry of Economic Affairs. Almost 2,000 military servicemen were dispatched to assist with the rescue and more than 1,200 residents were relocated to safe places.

Sewage Pipes

Early inspections indicated a large amount of propylene was present in Kaohsiung sewage pipes, which exploded along the city streets, Kaohsiung city spokesman Ting Yun-kung said by phone, adding that a petrochemical pipeline linking China General Terminal & Distribution Corp. and LCY Chemical Corp. facilities had shown an “abnormal” drop in pressure.

Taipei-based LCY Chemical said its pipes, located about 10 meters away from the explosion sites, appeared to be intact when examined early yesterday morning.

Southern Taiwan’s Kaohsiung is the site of two of state-run CPC Corp.’s oil refineries. The company, along with Formosa Petrochemical Corp., is a major propylene producer in Taiwan, which also imports the chemical. CPC halted some petrochemical deliveries following the blasts, company spokesman Chang Ray-chung said by phone.

LCY Chemical tumbled by the 7 percent daily limit in Taipei trading yesterday. China General Terminal’s listed shareholders USI Corp. fell 4.4 percent and Asia Polymer Corp. fell 3.8 percent by market close. Taiwan’s benchmark Taiex index ended down 0.5 percent.

Taiwan Premier Jiang Yi-huah ordered flags to be flown at half-mast for three days from Aug. 5 to mourn the dead from the double tragedy of the explosions and the crash of a TransAsia Airways Corp. flight originating in Kaohsiung on July 23.

TransAsia Flight GE222 deviated from its planned course before crashing into buildings near Magong Airport and killing 48 people, Taiwan’s aviation safety council said in a preliminary release of crash details yesterday.

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