Three days after the first of several gas explosions hit Greater Kaohsiung last week, rescue workers yesterday continued to search for two missing firemen, with the Kaohsiung Fire Bureau saying it suspected that they could have been “burned to ashes” due to their proximity to the blasts.
As of press time last night, the death toll from the disaster remained at 28, but reports of blood and bone fragments found in the rubble kept relief workers busy and the families of the missing in anguish.
At a meeting at an emergency response center yesterday, Greater Kaohsiung Fire Bureau Director Cheng Hung-lung (陳虹龍) said that the firemen’s colleagues said: “Two minutes before the explosions, the two were standing 20m from the command station where one of the blasts hit.”
“So if the search continues to prove fruitless, we may tentatively suggest that they might have been incinerated, but we will continue our recovery effort,” Cheng said.
Derek Chen (陳金德), director-general of the Greater Kaohsiung City Government’s Environmental Protection Bureau, said that 30 tonnes remain of the 260 tonnes of propene in China Petrochemical Development Corp’s (CPDC, 中石化) pipelines under the city.
The company estimated that it would take eight more days to finish emptying its pipes of the gas.
Responding to questions about reburying the pipelines, a move that local residents are now protesting against, Greater Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) said the pipes would not be reinterred without safety checks, vowing that the process would be transparent, and to inform the public about the network.
“Protecting residents’ lives and their property are the highest priorities,” she said. “No safety, no pipelines.”
Meanwhile, the probe to determine the cause of the devastating explosions in Cianjhen District (前鎮) made progress when prosecutors reportedly found a leak in a pipeline operated by LCY Chemical Corp (李長榮化學) on Saturday night.
With representatives from the petrochemical companies operating in the city, prosecutors inspected a culvert with three pipelines near the intersection of Kaisyuan Third Road and Ersheng Road, with CPC Corp, Taiwan (中油, CPC), China Petrochemical Development Corp (CPDC, 中石化) and LCY each operating one.
It was reported that one of the pipes had a cracked repair patch that could have caused a gas leak.
The prosecutors did not confirm the report, but did say there could be multiple leaks in the pipes under the municipality, and they were not presupposing any one firm to be the main culprit, stressing that the investigation is still ongoing.
Photo: Huang Chia-lin, Taipei Times
According to data from the Central Disaster Emergency Operation Center current as of press time, the explosions that occurred on Thursday night and Friday morning injured 302 people and that a total of 83,819 people from 32,968 households had been affected, with about 280 now housed in a shelter set up by the city government.
Meanwhile, Greater Kaohsiung Maintenance Office Director Chao Chien-chiao (趙建喬) said that his department is to begin resurfacing Sanduo Road — the thoroughfare at the heart of the explosions — today.
In addition to repaving the affected roads, the restoration drive is to repair damaged sidewalks and replant the trees along the road that were uprooted in the blasts, at an estimated cost of about NT$600 million (US$19.98 million).
He said the explosions tore up the pavement along about 6km of street.
Water Resources Bureau Director Lee Hsien-yi (李賢義) said the restoration of the rainwater drainage system under the road would take three months and cost another NT$600 million, adding that the city is seeking financial aid from the central government for the extensive repair work.
Additional reporting by CNA
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