In this aerial photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, rescuers work at the site of a factory explosion in a chemical industrial park in Xiangshui County of Yancheng in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, Friday, March 22, 2019. (Ji Chunpeng/Xinhua via AP)

China chemical plant blast kills 47, injures hundreds more

This is one of China’s worst industrial accidents in recent years

A massive explosion at a chemical plant in eastern China with a long record of safety violations has killed at least 47 people and injured hundreds of others, 90 of them seriously.

Thursday’s blast in an industrial park in the city of Yancheng, north of Shanghai, was one of China’s worst industrial accidents in recent years. State-run television showed crushed cars, blown-out windows and workers leaving the factory with bloodied heads.

Schools were closed and nearly 1,000 residents were moved to safety as a precaution against leaks and additional explosions, the city government said in a statement posted to its microblog.

READ MORE: Real-life tsunami threat in Port Alberni prompts evacuation updates

The blast created a crater and more than 900 firefighters were deployed to extinguish the fire that burned into the night.

Windows in buildings as far as 6 kilometres (4 miles) away were blown out by the force of the blast, which caused a magnitude 2.2 seismic shock.

A resident of the community of Chenjiagang, about 5 kilometres (about 3 miles) from the plant, said neighbours were injured by glass from windows smashed by the blast force.

“At the time of the explosion, I was almost deafened and I was terribly frightened,” said the woman, who gave only her surname, Zhi.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, on a state visit to Italy, demanded “all-out efforts” to find and rescue victims, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

“Relief work must be well done to maintain social stability. Meanwhile, environmental monitoring and early warning should be strengthened to prevent environmental pollution as well as secondary disasters,” it quoted Xi as saying.

Xi said local officials need to learn the lessons of a recent series of industrial accidents to preserve lives and property, signalling a likely crackdown on safety violations at a time when many Chinese companies are being hit by a downturn in sales that is squeezing profit margins.

READ MORE: Organic Matters tea recalled across B.C. due to Salmonella

The higher death toll, raised from 44 but with no change in the number of injured, suggested rescue crews were still finding bodies at the blast site.

The Yancheng city government statement said 3,500 medical workers at 16 hospitals were mobilized to treat the injured, dozens of whom remained in critical condition.

The cause of the blast was under investigation and people responsible for operations at the plant have been placed “under control,” Xinhua said. It wasn’t clear whether anyone had been formally arrested.

State media said the State Council, China’s Cabinet, had been ordered to oversee the investigation.

China experiences frequent industrial accidents despite orders from the central government to improve safety at factories, power plants and mines.

Among the worst accidents was a massive 2015 explosion at a chemical warehouse in the port city of Tianjin that killed 173 people, most of them firefighters and police officers. That blast was blamed on illegal construction and unsafe storage of volatile materials.

In November, at least 22 people were killed and scores of vehicles destroyed in an explosion outside a chemical plant in the northeastern city of Zhangjiakou, which will host competitions in the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Thursday’s disaster occurred at a factory run by the Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical Co. Located among a cluster of chemical factories in Yancheng, it has a dismal safety record: In February 2018, China’s State Administration for Work Safety cited 13 types of safety hazards at the company, including mishandling of tanks of toxic benzene, the source of Thursday’s explosion.

Those violations came despite the plant having racked up 1.79 million RMB ($267,000) in fines since 2016 for violations of environmental regulations, according to a judgments issued by local county and city environmental protection bureaus. Those included improperly dealing with hazardous waste and evading air pollution supervision.

A 2017 explosion that killed 10 at a nearby plant prompted the State Administration of Work Safety to dispatch inspectors. They discovered over 200 safety hazards at chemical factories in Yancheng and four nearby cities, including 13 at the Tianjiayi plant. Safety hazards cited included leaks and drips, employees who didn’t understand safety procedures, and a lack of emergency shut-off valves on tanks carrying flammable chemicals.

In 2014, the company’s chairman, Zhang Qinyue, and Wu Guozhong, its former supply chief, were arrested on suspicion of dumping and burying hazardous waste byproducts near a temple and a village landfill, according to a Jiangsu court criminal judgement. They were convicted in 2017 and the company was fined 1 million ($149,000).

__

Christopher Bodeen, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

North Island MP calls for feds to implement automatic approval of disability benefits

MP Rachel Blaney has asked for automatic approvals to address the ‘extreme backlog’ of Veterans’ disability benefit applications

Recycling depots in Campbell River, Courtenay to close

The unstaffed recyling depot at Strathcona Gardens Recreation Complex is set to close July 1

Strathcona Regional District reopens electoral area outdoor park facilities

Basketball, tennis courts, skateparks in three EAs open

As SD84 schools look to reopen, Kyuquot and Zeballos opt out

Schools in Tahsis and Gold River will open on June 1, with 30 per cent students expected to come in

RCMP calls decrease in Campbell River

Total for year up compared to 2019

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

Mirror business directory and map

If you’d like to be added to the list, shoot us an email

Stolen gargoyle returns to its perch on central Vancouver Island yard

Petey, a concrete gargoyle statue, was returned by Nanaimo RCMP after being found by city crew

Pregnant B.C. woman catches COVID-19 days before giving birth

Michelle Hunter said it was like a horror movie when caught COVID-19

Spirit bear possibly spotted in West Kootenay

A local resident spotted the white-coloured bear while on an evening trail run near Castlegar on May 27

B.C. businesses ‘can’t shoulder burden’ of COVID-19 sick pay

Trudeau’s plan should be tied to federal emergency aid

B.C. teacher reprimanded for sharing homophobic and sexist memes, making racist comments

Klaus Hardy Breslauer was accused of making a laundry list of concerning decisions as a science teacher

COVID-19: B.C. too dependent on foreign food production workers

New B.C. job site links unemployed with farm, seafood work

Most Read