Chemical plant blast cut power to high-speed railway in Jinan, officials say

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2016, 6:05pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2016, 10:50pm

An explosion at a chemical plant in a village in eastern China disrupted services along the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway line on Tuesday morning, authorities said.

The blast at about 9.30am at a formaldehyde factory in Fanzhuang village, west of Jinan, the capital city of Shandong province, blew the building’s iron roof off and damaged the power supply of the railway, resulting in 47 services being delayed or cancelled.

Though no casualties were reported, the accident again drew attention to China’s poor urban planning, with hazardous industrial facilities often located close to homes or civilian infrastructure.

Residents up to 3km away heard the explosion and reported that their doors and windows shook.

The blast immediately cut the power at Jinan West Railway Station, stranding passengers.

A high-speed train was nearing the site when the explosion happened and was unable to proceed further with the power cut. Following trains had to wait until power was restored.

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A blaze at the factory was extinguished in half an hour, Shanghai-based news portal reported.

Environmental agencies did not detect any abnormalities following the incident, the report added.

All high-speed railway services on the line resumed by noon time, the Jinan Railway Bureau said on its official social media account.

The cause of the explosion is being investigated.

Explosions near residential and working area are not rare in China. Greenpeace East Asia said that between January and August, China reported 232 chemical-related incidents that killed 199 people and injured 400 others.

Early in October, a fire set off an explosion at an oil refinery owned by China Petrochemical subsidiary Jinling Petrochemical in Nanjing in Jiangsu province.

Jiangsu Radio later reported “a pungent odour” in the air. Photos posted on social media websites showed black smoke rising from the plant and witnesses said they heard two huge blasts.

In 2008, residents raised concerns about safety risks from the oil refinery and an associated plant producing toxic paraxylene.

The Jinling plant is located in Qixia district, home to more than 10 universities and colleges.

Tuesday’s explosion was minor compared with the massive blast and inferno on August 12, 2015 at the Ruihai International Logistics chemical warehouse in Tianjin that claimed 173 lives and injured nearly 800, many of them residents who lived in high-rise flats overlooking the facility.

Among the dead were 115 firemen and police officers, called to fight one of the country’s worst industrial accidents.

Wei Wei, a professor of urban design at Wuhan University, said such problems are inevitable in China given the accelerated speed of urbanisation. Chemical plants originally far from cities or infrastructure are soon surrounded by residential areas or infrastructure.

“The administration system adds to the difficulty since urban planning and buildings are administered by different departments. So it’s not unusual for city developers to stray from the original planning,” Wei said.