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Blasts caused by leaked gas overnight in Taiwan’s biggest port city killed at least 24 people and injured about 271, in what local television described as the nation’s deadliest gas explosion.
The blasts in Kaohsiung started just before midnight after reports of gas leaks began from 8:46 p.m., the National Fire Agency said in a statement on its website. Four policemen and fire fighters are among the dead, it said in a text message sent today.
Images aired by broadcaster ETTV showed vehicles flipped on their sides as fires blazed in the early morning darkness, with Sanlih Television showing a car lodged in the third floor of a building. Part of a city street at least a block long was caved in, and store front windows were broken. Rescue workers were shown on TVBS combing through the rubble of homes looking for survivors.
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The causes of the explosions are still being investigated with initial assessments suggesting they followed a leak of propylene, a gas used to make plastics and fabrics, Taiwan’s Minister of Economic Affairs Chang Chia-juch said in a televised briefing. The fires are now under control.
Kaohsiung resident Sydney Chen posted on his Facebook profile that he felt an explosion that resembled an earthquake before hearing screams from the street. His electricity was knocked out and he woke up his family to leave their home, according to the post.
The blasts cut gas supplies to 23,600 households, power to 7,536 households and 8,000 homes were without water as of 9:30 a.m., according to a statement on the Taiwan Ministry of Economic Affairs.
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Makeshift Stretchers Injured bystanders were shown resting in cars and nearby residents assembled makeshift stretchers to carry others to safety, Formosa Television showed. In all, 1,212 residents were relocated to safe places, according to the city government.
Southern Taiwan’s Kaohsiung is the site of two of state-run CPC Corp.’s oil refineries as well as its naphtha crackers. The company halted some petrochemical deliveries following the blasts, company spokesman Chang Ray-chung said by phone. CPC and Formosa Petrochemical Corp. are Taiwan’s two major propylene producers. The island also imports the chemical.
Checks indicated a large amount of propylene likely leaked to sewage pipes, where the explosions occurred, Kaohsiung city spokesman Ting Yun-kung said by phone. An initial check showed a pipe linking China General Terminal & Distribution Corp. and LCY Chemical Corp. had an “abnormal” pressure drop, Ting said.
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Shares Drop LCY Chemical tumbled by the 7 percent daily limit in Taipei trading as of 12:08 p.m. local time. China Petrochemical Development Corp., which also runs propylene pipes through Kaohsiung, fell 4.9 percent and Hsin-Kao Gas Co. lost 2 percent. Taiwan’s benchmark Taiex index fell 0.5 percent.
Taipei-based LCY Chemical said its pipes located close to some of the explosion sites appear to be intact.
China Petrochemical halted a pipeline running through the blast sites as a precautionary measure, Vice President Jason Yu said by phone. Yu said the blasts didn’t occur in the company’s pipes.
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Hsin-Kao Gas, a liquefied petroleum gas distributor based in Kaohsiung, halted gas supplies to about 23,000 customers on safety concerns, according to a stock exchange filing. The company doesn’t have pipes running through the explosion sites, Hsin-Kao said.