Survivors of a huge explosion at a rural hotpot restaurant that killed 14 people told yesterday how diners leapt two storeys to the ground to escape the blast.
The powerful blast blew out car windows and bent the iron gate of a shop across the street when it ripped through the Happy Sheep Hot Pot Restaurant in rural Shouyang county, Shanxi province, shortly before 8pm on Friday.
Yuan Heping, who was dinning with his wife on the first floor of the three-storey restaurant, told Xinhua that he heard a deafening boom and felt a blast of heat. Black smoke filled the whole room.
Yuan said took off his sweater, covered his mouth and jumped out of the building from the window. His wife, Du Zengxiu, also survived. Both suffered minor burns.
A doctor at the Shouyang People's Hospital, where most victims were taken after the explosion, told the Sunday Morning Post that many had suffered serious burns or been struck by debris.
"Some victims' families were called in to identify their dead relatives after midnight," he said, declining to be named.
"Their screaming is still in my ears. We are a small county. We have not seen such a disaster before."
Forty-seven people were also injured in the blast. Eleven of them were still in critical condition yesterday. Xinhua said 31 of the injured were later transferred to large hospitals in Taiyuan city.
"The explosion was as powerful as an earthquake," said the operator of a nearby laundry, who declined to give her name.
"I [was] so scared. I dare not look at the scene because I could have been one of the victims.
"Everyone has hotpot in winter and every hotpot restaurant uses gas tanks because it is cheaper than electricity."
Authorities suspect a leaking gas cylinder underneath a table caused the explosion.
A local police officer expressed surprise at the scale of the devastation.
He said: "I am shocked and puzzled by such a high death toll. The explosion of a single gas tank could not kill so many people."
Meanwhile, at least 18 miners were killed and five were trapped after an explosion in a coal mine in Liupanshui, Guizhou province, yesterday.