Five arrested after 'party powder' explosion at Taiwan park wounds over 500 people, including Hongkongers

Authorities say initial findings point to colourful powder igniting inferno due to heat or machinery

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 June, 2015, 1:54am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 June, 2015, 10:01am

At least 519 people, including five women from Hong Kong, were injured when a large volume of flammable powder exploded in the air at a water park in New Taipei City on Saturday night, authorities said.

A spokesman for the local fire department said the explosion and fire were understood to have been caused by coloured powder, which was sprayed into the air during a dance party at the Formosa Fun Coast water park, igniting "due to the heat of the lights on stage".

Deputy fire chief Chen Chung-yueh said on Sunday that the blast may have been  caused by “sparks from machinery or lighting equipment”. 

“The explosion occurred when a large volume of unknown coloured powder spewed out into the air at an open stage in the Formosa water park, [which] caught on fire at around 8.30 pm,” a police spokesman said by phone last night.

Video clips posted on the internet showed people screaming and shouting for help when a wave of smoke caught flame over the stage. Soon afterwards, the entire stage was engulfed in a blaze.

The park was staging a “Colour Play Asia” party, with many in their swimwear dancing on the stage, police said. Around 1,000 spectators had been at the event, according to officials.

Taipei health official Lee Lih-jong said 194 critically injured persons were rushed to nearby hospitals for emergency treatment. Authorities have begun to track down victims who had taken themselves to hospital or been ferried there by others.

The severely wounded are being treated in intensive care units at 37 different hospitals.

“The reason why the burns were so severe was that in addition to burns to the skin, there were also injuries caused by burns to the respiratory organs from the large amount of colour powder inhaled,” Lee said.

“The next 24 hours will be critical for those severely injured.”

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The Hong Kong Immigration Department confirmed that five Hongkongers had suffered injuries ranging from first- to third-degree burns, and that at least one was admitted to intensive care. Three tourists and one student were aged 18 to 25.

The department said it was in touch with the victims' families and would be sending representatives to Taipei to provide assistance.

Meanwhile, five people, including Colour Play Asia event manager Lu Chung-chi, were detained by police. They are being questioned by prosecutors on charges of offences against  public safety and negligence of duties that caused severe injuries, a police spokesman said.

The water park issued a statement today saying it was “deeply saddened”  and would cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

General manager Chen Hui-ying told reporters that all partygoers had been insured, but did not say to what amount. “Throwing coloured corn starch around ... we had never heard such an  activity could be dangerous,” she said.

News agency CNA said some of the victims suffered burns on more than 40 per cent of their bodies. Two women in the early 20s had burns on 80 per cent of their body.

New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu Li-luan, also chairman of the ruling Kuomintang party, rushed to the scene soon after the fire to show concern and ordered the victims speedy help and medical treatment.

Witnesses described the scene at a Taiwan water park as “hell” after a ball of fire ripped through a crowd. 

Horrifying amateur video footage showed crowds of young revellers dancing in front of a stage and cheering as clouds of green and yellow powder covered them at the “colour party”. But their joy turned to terror when the powder suddenly erupted into flames, engulfing them in an inferno as they ran screaming for their lives.  

One male student who sustained minor injuries described the scene as “hell”.

“There was blood everywhere, including in the pool where lots of the  injured were soaking themselves for relief from the pain,” he told reporters.

His visibly shaken girlfriend added: “I saw lots of people whose skin was  gone.”

Ambulances had struggled to reach the scene, and victims were carried away on rubber rings and inflatable dinghies as friends desperately tried to get  them out.

Bystanders poured bottles of water on the scorched skin of the injured.  Trails of bloody footprints leading away from the stage remained.

One male witness told local news channel CTI: “It started on the left side  of the stage. At the beginning I thought it was part of the special effects of  the party but then I realised there was something wrong and people started  screaming and running.”

Several major hospitals in Taiwan have been asked to donate skin grafts and surgical equipment to help treat the injured, the Ministry of Health and  Welfare said. 

One father broke down as he told how his daughter was in intensive care with third-degree burns.

“She was attending a music concert... why would there be an explosion?” he wept bewildered, while speaking to reporters. “More than 80 percent of her body has been scorched."

The man, who was not named, lashed out at authorities saying they had not contacted him or offered any help.

The national news agency CNA reported that 13 of the injured were foreign  nationals, including two each from mainland China and Japan, one from Macau, one from Malaysia and another from Singapore. Another was identified as being from the West.

Colour Play Asia has also run other “colour parties” in Taiwan in the past  two years.

Taiwan’s premier Mao Chih-kuo, who visited the injured on Sunday, ordered that  all such events be banned unless their safety could be assured.