Up to 20 people, including children, died in northern China when explosives stored in the home of a mine operator blew up near a school, local officials and state media said yesterday.
Press reports said at least 20 children died and the Beixinzhuang elementary school was badly damaged in the Wednesday afternoon blast in Huogou village, Shanxi Province.
However, the Communist Party secretary of Kecheng township, which governs the village, said only 10 people died.
"The latest confirmed figure is 10 dead, eight adults and two children," the secretary, surnamed Cao, said.
"The adults were all men and the two children were girls. Seven people have been injured. The owner of the explosives also died," he said.
A journalist from the local Shanxi Metropolitan Daily said police had cordoned off the area and were refusing to allow reporters near the school.
"It was a very small school, with only 17 to 18 students. Only a few students died. Nine students were injured," she said.
"The explosion killed many people in the homes around the blast," she said. She expressed concerns that local officials would seek to cover up the blast as it occurred just days ahead of the annual meeting of the National People's Congress in Beijing.
Traditionally, this is a politically sensitive time when the central government takes a dim view of local man-made disasters.
A businessman in Kecheng, who said he was a Communist Party member, also said he feared the local government could try to cover up the incident.
"Since this happened at a school, during the daytime, they can't cover it up as usual," he said, refusing to be named.
Officials from the Linfen City Government, the region's political center, had rushed to the village and were directing a police investigation into the cause of the accident, said Cao.
The explosives were being stored in the home of local mine operator, Lu Maolin, who died in the blast. Lu's wife was also injured, the Beijing News said.
Investigators have not ruled out the possibility of suicide, Cao said, but were waiting for the results of a full investigation.
Another Kecheng township official, who did not want to be named, said the toll was "in the teens," indicating it was somewhere between 10 and 20.
China has experienced a wave of deadly attacks, including stabbings and bombings, at schools in recent months, culminating in the shutting down of 10,000 kindergartens.