Taiwan President orders island-wide pipeline check after deadly Kaohsiung explosions

Death toll from string of blasts in Kaohsiung rises to 28 as LCY Chemical system is blamed

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 August, 2014, 2:09pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 August, 2014, 5:29pm

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou yesterday ordered the government to review the safety of underground pipelines and cables across the island amid public concerns about poor management following deadly gas explosions in Kaohsiung on Thursday.

The order came as the government said LCY Chemical, one of the island's key gas suppliers, had never notified the Kaohsiung government about the location of its pipelines, and that propylene, used in the production of plastic and fabrics, had leaked from its network and caused the blasts.

The death toll climbed to 28 yesterday after rescuers found two more bodies as they continued to search for survivors along Kaisyuan Third Road and San Duo Second Road. The number of injured stands at 284.

Watch: Rescue continues after deadly gas explosions in Taiwan's Kaohsiung

The city's Public Works Bureau chief, Yang Ming-jou, said they had no records of LCY's pipelines. "LCY could have laid the pipeline decades ago, before the department was established. According to our records, it did not provide information to the government."

Kaohsiung alone has more than 123,000km of underground pipelines installed by more than 40 companies, but authorities had not compiled an updated map showing the whole system, the municipal government said.

Chen Chin-der, the head of Kaohsiung's Environmental Protection Bureau, told the Central News Agency that the bureau had confirmed the explosions were caused by a major propylene leak. Investigators had found pressure in LCY's pipe system used to channel propylene was abnormal and started to leak a few hours before the explosion, Chen said.

Ma visited a Kaohsiung hospital treating the injured. He said the cabinet had set up a task force to investigate the cause of the blasts. A "more comprehensive design and efficient management" would be the focus of a review of the pipe network, he said.

Four firefighters sent to the scene after residents complained of smelling gas were killed in the explosions, and two more remained missing. Pieces of burned firefighters' uniforms have been found at the scene, and investigators are checking whether they belong to one of the missing men.

Dozens of emergency centres and shelters have been set up near the site, with volunteers distributing food, water and other necessities to affected residents. About 7,000 families remain without electricity or water. The government said it hoped to resume electricity supply to the area within three days and water supply within five days.

One resident, Li Fu-zhing, 58, said she smelled gas at her flat near San Duo Second Road at 9pm, but was not worried because she saw firefighters nearby.

When the blasts erupted just before midnight, her 90-year-old husband thought it was an earthquake, but Li knew it was the result of the gas.

"I dragged him out of the flat and we started running to a school playground, because I know there are no underground pipelines [there]," she said.

Ying Yen-tun said she heard a loud blast and her building shook. "I thought it was an earthquake, but it didn't shake side to side. The building went up and then down," she said.

"I went out and the road was covered in mist. There was a strong smell of burning."

Another resident, Nai Chi-nan, said: "I wouldn't even call it shaking. The building just jumped. It was very scary."

Chen Tai-lung, a resident on Kaisyuan Third Road, said it felt like a magnitude-5 earthquake.

"I looked out and half of the sky was red," Chen said. "There was also a pungent smell."

Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu, from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, announced that the family of each victim would receive NT$3 million (HK$772,300) in compensation and each victim treated in hospital would receive NT$100,000.