Sat, Jul 24, 2004 - Page 4 News List

No one hurt after shell site explosion

MOVING MOUNTAINS Underground sites storing unused munitions started spewing smoke after a series of explosions, but a cause has yet to be determined

CNA , TAIPEI

Military authorities on Kinmen reported yesterday that a mountain area where more than 9,000 unused shells and bombs were stored stabilized after an explosion a day earlier.

The military authorities said no sound of the explosion or smoke were detected at Chaitzu Mountain yesterday morning. The authorities added that they have continued to cordon off the area for safety reasons.

Officials from UXB International Inc, a US company in charge of the bomb disposal, said they observed traces of smoke coming out of the shaft at 5am yesterday. They said all the smoke dissipated by 10am and don't think there will be any more explosions. The UXB officials said they would continue following standard operation guidelines, which state that shafts can only be entered 24 hours after the last signs of smoke have disappeared. They said technical personnel will not enter the shafts until tomorrow, or two days after the last traces of smoke have dissipated.

Although there were no casualties in the incident, the village of Shanhsi located about 1,000 meters away from the explosion site was shrouded in heavy smoke on Thursday, and many villagers said they had difficulty breathing and irritated eyes.

Chou Chun-chiao (周軍橋), director of the Political Warfare Department of the Kinmen Garrison Command, accompanied UXB manager Lee Ta-yung (李大勇) yesterday to call on the Chinsha township head to discuss how to deal with the aftermath of the incident.

Lee said the company was "very sorry" about the incident, and he would call on each household in Shanhsi to apologize and to arrange health checkups if necessary.

The villagers, who were quickly evacuated after the explosions, returned to their homes late Thursday. Though life returned to normal by Friday, they said the military should review the issue of disused bombs following the incident, noting that when the military stored the bombs in the nearby mountain area, they had assumed it would pose no danger to residents.

The incident took place at around 2:15pm Thursday, with residents reporting seeing white smoke belching out of the mountain and later heard a series of loud explosions.

A group of technical UXB personnel at the disposal site were unharmed. They were about 300 meters from the shaft when the explosions occurred. The explosions continued until around 5:40pm.

The Kinmen Garrison Command said it has collected over 1,000 tons of bombs and used cement to seal them up before storing them in several places in the mountain in 1996.

The military waited until 2002 to commission UXB International to handle the bombs, and they were scheduled to have them all disposed by July 2005.

UXB officials said the company has so far treated 30,000 shells, and had not entered storage shafts for six days prior to the incident.

The shaft currently stores 9,294 unused bombs, mostly yellow phosphorous projectiles used for lighting. Initial investigations showed that the mothballed yellow phosphorous bombs, which have combustion point of around 44?C, may have caught fire due to the hot weather.

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