Fri, Jan 10, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Blast at Japanese factory kills at least five: officials

CAUSE UNKNOWN:Police said they had not yet found the cause of the explosion at the chemical plant, but that there was no known risk of an ensuing toxic leak

AFP, TOKYO

An explosion at a Japanese factory that had previously attracted the attention of safety inspectors killed at least five people and injured a dozen more yesterday.

The blast happened in the early afternoon at Mitsubishi Materials’ plant in Yokkaichi, as maintenance crews were working on a heat exchanger used in silicon product production, a plant spokesman told reporters.

Initial reports put the death toll at two, but the figure was quickly revised upward.

“Five people are dead. 12 people have been injured, of whom nine sustained only minor injuries,” a Mie Prefectural Police spokeswoman said.

A separate police spokeswoman said detailed inspections to determine the cause of the accident had not yet begun because of the danger of secondary explosions, although she added that there was no known risk of a toxic chemical leak.

“An explosion occurred, but there is no fire. We received an emergency call at 2:09pm... and at 2:21pm the incident appeared to have calmed down,” another police spokesperson said.

Television footage showed about a dozen firefighters setting out stretchers at the site, where a pipe appeared to have fallen to the ground and other machinery parts were scattered nearby.

Factory official Hiroki Morofuji said the blast involved maintenance workers.

“Some 170 people were working at the plant,” a Tokyo-based spokesman said. “Operation at the plant has been suspended.”

He confirmed a report by Dow Jones Newswires that the Yokkaichi factory was ordered by local officials to shut down for several months in 2010 after an on-site inspection discovered it was generating high-pressure gas without necessary permits.

The death toll is the largest in an industrial accident in Japan since an undersea tunnel collapsed at an oil refinery in 2012, trapping five.

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