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, parked scooters, even injured victims through the air and blasting long trenches in the streets, authorities said on Friday.
The series of explosions about midnight on Thursday and early on Friday struck a district where several petrochemical plans operate pipelines alongside the sewer system in Kaohsiung, a southwestern port with a population of 2.8 million people.
Watch: Multiple gas explosions in Taiwan's Kaohsiung streets
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 passers-by 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.
Watch: Gas blasts kill 24, injure 271 in Taiwan
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 Centre, said the leaking gas was most likely propene, meaning that the resulting fires could not be extinguished by water. He said emergency workers would have to wait until the gas had burnt away.
The source of the leak was unknown, Chang said.
Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu said several petrochemical companies have pipelines built along the sewage system in Chian-Chen district, which has both factories and residential buildings.
“Our priority is to save people now. We ask citizens living along the pipelines to evacuate,” Chen told TVBS television.
Power was cut off in the area, making it difficult for firefighters to search for others who might be buried in rubble.
CNA said the local fire department received reports from residents of gas leakage at about 8.46pm and that explosions started around midnight.
Closed-circuit television showed an explosion rippling through the floor of a motorcycle parking area, hurling concrete and other debris through the air. Mobile phone video captured the sound of an explosion as flames leapt at least 9 metres into the air.
One of the explosions left a large trench running down the centre of a road, edged with piles of concrete slabs torn apart by the force of the blast. A damaged motorcycle lay in the crater, and TVBS showed cars flipped over. The force of the initial blast also felled trees lining the street.
The Hong Kong Immigration Department said it had not received any calls for assistance from Hongkongers in Kaohsiung as of 6am.
Thursday night’s inferno came just a week after a TransAsia Airways plane crash in Taiwan left 48 people dead.
The plane carrying 54 passengers and four crew on a domestic flight plunged into houses in Magong in offshore Penghu islands in stormy weather after a typhoon pounded Taiwan. Two French nationals were among the dead.
In 2012, a man started a fire in a nursing home he lived in southern Tainan city that killed 13 people and injured 60 others.
In 2011, four people were killed and 38 others injured when a truckload of firecrackers exploded in northern Taiwan. The blast, which destroyed a dozen houses, occured as the truck driver was unloading the firecrackers near a paper shop in New Taipei City.