Taiwan Blames Chemicals Company for Deadly Kaohsiung Explosions

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

Rescuers continued to comb through debris from deadly gas explosions looking for survivors as Taiwan’s second-biggest city pinned responsibility for at least 28 deaths on a company that piped gas underground.

Taipei-based LCY Chemical Corp. failed to halt the transport of propylene, a gas used for the production of plastic and fabrics, through pipelines beneath the city of Kaohsiung, after residents complained of noxious fumes emerging from the streets and scientific readings showed potential leakage, Kaohsiung’s government alleged in a statement released today.

LCY Chemical spokeswoman Abby Pan didn’t answer two calls to her office phone after the release of the city’s statement. The blasts also injured 286 people.

“Two firefighters are unaccounted for and efforts to find them are continuing,” National Fire Agency Deputy Director Chen Wen-long said by phone. Woody Duh, deputy minister of economic affairs, called the incident the deadliest industrial accident in Taiwan’s history.

The municipal government ordered the suspension of four petrochemical pipelines running through the area while the investigation is carried out, Duh said.

Pressure Drop

A pipeline channeling propylene between China General Terminal & Distribution Corp. and LCY Chemical facilities showed a drop in pressure at 8:43 p.m. on July 31, Kaohsiung’s government said in the statement. LCY Chemical didn’t ask China General to stop delivery immediately nor report to the environmental protection bureau, allowing a large amount of propylene to leak for three hours, it said.

LCY Chemical said yesterday its pipeline was located about 10 meters (33 feet) away from the explosion sites.

“We will comply with investigations to clarify causes,” Pan said at a briefing earlier today. The spokeswoman declined at the time to say whether there were leaks from the pipeline.

The blasts affected 32,968 households and 83,819 people, cutting gas supplies to about 23,600 households, according to Taiwan’s cabinet. More than 2,000 military servicemen were dispatched to assist with the rescue.

Factory operations at Asia Polymer Corp., USI Corp., and China General Plastics Corp. remained normal as only the underground piping systems in areas affected by the explosions were halted, the companies said in stock exchange filings.

China Petrochemical Development Corp. will increase ground transport of materials and will cut production for a week. Revenue will be reduced by NT$36 million ($1.2 million), it said in a statement to the exchange today.

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