Largest Gas Explosion in Taiwanese History Kills 26

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Taiwan, still reeling from the news of a deadly plane crash less than a month ago that killed 48 and injured 10 met yet another tragedy  midnight on Thursday and early Friday in a series of 5 horrific gas explosions that sent vehicles and chunks of concrete soaring as high as three stories through the air from the force of the blasts.  The blasts created  long trenches edged with concrete slabs out of what used to be Kaixuan Road and left the immediate area looking like a war zone, also further affecting almost 2 square miles of the city. One video on YouTube detailed the explosion that created the trench, showing the road suddenly exploding down along its length.

“I was on my scooter just across the street, suddenly there was the explosion, a white car was blown toward me, and I saw the driver trapped in the car,” said Wong Zhen-Yao, an owner of a shop in the area, “There was still fire nearby. I tried to pull the guy out but couldn’t,” he said. “Only after the smoke was gone did I realize there was such a big hole in the middle of the road.”

The death toll currently stands at 26, and 270 injured, with more still missing.  CCTV video shows the explosions rocking the streets, and then rescuers and residents pulling people out of the rubble and placing them on stretchers.  Four firefighters that were investigating the gas leaks are reported among the dead.  Rescuers expect to find few buried among the rubble, as luckily no buildings collapsed.

The Ministry of National Defense reported 1600 military personnel deployed to aid in the rescues, and the local government has set up its own emergency center.

“Last night around midnight, the house started shaking and I thought it was a huge earthquake, but when I opened the door, I saw white smoke all over and smelled gas,” said Chen Qing-tao, who lives nearby the affected area.

The blast occurred in Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city, not long after residents had reported the smell of gas.  The authorities however, could not locate the source of the gas leak, and as of yet still do not know, due to the amount of rubble covering the area, and the complexity of the pipe system in place.  The Taiwanese government reports that currently further explosions are very slim in chance, as the gas supply has been shut off, however fires continue to burn in the hours after the explosions.  However, before the area was declared safe, around 1200 people were evacuated from the area, and many came back to houses without gas or electricity.

The gas leak is thought to have been from a propene pipe, a pipe not intended for public use either, but instead for petrochemical purposes.  The government is still scrambling to find out exactly how the explosions came to be, and how to prevent further disasters.  The area is heavily laced with pipes such as the one that exploded, since the city is a industry focused city, especially in petrochemicals, with factories nearby the residential buildings.

Propene, not to be confused with Propane, is a gas that is most commonly used in manufacturing, and has a mildly unpleasant odor.

Power supplies to 12,000 people in the area were cut, and 23,600 lost gas service. By late Friday, some power had been restored, but many residents still face difficulty.

Chang Bi-Chu, an elderly resident,  said the front door of her home was warped by the explosion and power was cut, leaving the house without lights or fans in the hot and humid Taiwanese weather.

News of the disaster has brought about a large amount of support and condolences from the internet and around the country, along with local companies donating millions of Taiwanese dollars to aid the victims.  Flags around the island are ordered to fly at half mast for 3 days in honor of both the victims of the plane crash and the explosions.


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