A 77-year-old woman in Yunlin County’s Jialong Village (嘉隆) was killed on the patio outside her home on Monday by an underground explosion, which authorities said could have been caused by subcontractors working on water pipes nearby accidentally igniting a trapped pocket of methane.
Forensic investigators found traces of volatile gas at the scene, but they were unable to identify its composition, since there are no known gas pipelines in the area, the Yunlin County Police Bureau said.
The blast took place at 4pm, the same afternoon that subcontractors from a water company began work about 10m from where the explosion occurred.
The victim was sitting outside her house, directly in the path of the blast. She was fatally injured by the blast wave and by shrapnel from two Chunghwa Telecom underground wiring boxes.
The victim’s husband was leaving their home to go for a walk as the explosion occurred, and quickly returned to find his wife on their neighbor’s doorstep, 3m from where she had been sitting. Emergency services were called to the scene, and she was taken to hospital
She was pronounced dead at 6pm from a collapsed lung.
Soon after the blast, black smoke was reportedly seen drifting from cracks in a concrete pavement near the victim’s patio, and there was extensive water leakage from a broken main.
The Yunlin Police Bureau and Fire Bureau are jointly conducting an investigation, a police spokesperson said.
The investigation team’s working theory is that an industrial digger the workers were using might have unearthed a pocket of methane, which leaked into wiring boxes that sparked an explosion, a police spokesperson said.
Police investigators interviewed witnesses and the work crew at the site, including the digger’s operator, a man surnamed Chang (張), who said safety protocols were followed throughout the day of the incident, the police said.
When asked for comment, Chunghwa Telecom said it had no knowledge of what had caused the explosion and it would wait for the authorities to conclude their investigation before commenting.
Village residents said recent road paving work in the area had sealed off the air vents of many telecom boxes with asphalt, and they fear further blasts.
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