Chinese chemical factory blast kills 23, injures 22

  • Investigation under way into explosion overnight in Hebei, which local officials say was caused by a vehicle carrying dangerous chemicals
  • Witnesses describe ‘fireball’ engulfing 50 vehicles
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2018, 9:46am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 November, 2018, 5:23pm

Twenty-three people were killed and 22 others injured in an explosion near a chemical factory in Zhangjiakou in the northern Chinese province of Hebei early on Wednesday, local authorities said.

The fire was contained, and search and rescue teams went to work after the blast at about 12.41am, according to a post on the Zhangjiakou government’s Weibo page.

The injured were taken to hospitals for treatment, and investigators were looking into the cause of the explosion, the city government’s post said.

Officials said the explosion erupted near the Hebei Shenghua Chemical plant in the city’s Qiaodong district, and the fire engulfed 38 lorries and 12 cars.

The Zhangjiakou Administration of Work Safety said the fire broke out after a vehicle carrying acetylene exploded as it waited to enter the premises of Haiboer New Energy, next to the Shenghua plant, Xinhua news agency reported.

Haiboer New Energy is the major hydrogen producer for Zhangjiakou’s 74 hydrogen cell buses.

A kilometre away, residents of a village called Beiganzhuang were advised to leave after the blast, the report quoted a villager as saying.  

A witness who identified himself as Wong told Chinese news website Upstream he had been driving his lorry, loaded with 32 tonnes of coal, on the road where the blast occurred.

Nineteen killed in Chinese chemical plant blast

He said large lorries were lined up at the roadside for loading, and his vehicle was boxed in when the fire broke out.

“Oh my goodness, it exploded!” he was quoted as saying. “I saw a fireball at the back of the truck. The fire swallowed the cars and trucks one by one, and soon all the trucks were burning together.”

He had to leap from his lorry wearing only his underwear, and the vehicle was consumed by flames by the time he had run 10 metres from it. “I am fine, the truck is gone,” he said, using a borrowed phone to call his wife. “The fire was too fierce.”

Another witness, Chen, told Upstream he believed most of the dead were lorry drivers.

The Beijing News quoted a witness as saying drivers were asleep or resting in their vehicles when the explosion happened.

Zhangjiakou’s Chongli district will be home to eight venues for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

China’s huge industrial sector, especially its chemical factories, has struggled to improve safety.

On November 4, 69 tonnes of petrochemicals known as C9 aromatics spilled into the sea off Quanzhou in Fujian province when a pipe from a petrochemical firm to a tanker came loose. In all, 52 people were hospitalised and nearby fishing villages lost millions of dollars in production.

In 2015, a series of chemical explosions rocked the northern Chinese port of Tianjin, killing 165 people in one of the deadliest industrial accidents this decade.