Hundreds of people were left with severe burns after an explosion of colored powder that set off a fire during the “Color Play Asia” party at the Formosa Fun Coast (八仙海岸) water park in New Taipei City’s Bali District (八里), and scores remain in critical condition. It was a grim lesson in how a disregard for public safety can have devastating results.
The exact reason for the high-density cornstarch explosion is still unknown, with some suggesting that smoking, a short circuit or heat produced by lighting or sound equipment ignited the substance. However, what is clear is that those involved in organizing the event had no regard for safety.
Color Play (玩色創意) head organizer Lu Chung-chi (呂忠吉) said, after being questioned by prosecutors on Sunday night, that the event staff were not informed that the powder was flammable. Apparently there were not any “no smoking” signs around the stage and cigarette butts were everywhere.
Considering Lu is said to understand that an activity creating dust is a combustible dust explosion hazard and that cornstarch is a potential fire hazard, the gross negligence he showed is appalling.
Amid safety concerns about events where colored powder is sprayed about, which Lu introduced in Taiwan in 2013 and that have grown increasingly popular, he had said on several occasions that the reason Color Play uses cornstarch, as opposed to other materials, is that fine corn flour is safe and harmless to the environment.
Lu also posted a statement on the company’s Web site to alleviate fears, saying that the coloring it adds to the cornstarch is edible and thus unlikely to cause explosions, and that cornstarch would be unlikely to cause explosions unless a very high density of the powder is exposed to extreme heat in a confined space.
The calamity might have been avoided had Lu warned staff that spraying large amounts of the powder in close proximity to electrical sources is dangerous, and if smoking had been banned to prevent a possible dust explosion. He should also have acknowledged that selling about 4,000 tickets for an event which could only accommodate 600 people was a safety risk.
It is a common assumption among Taiwanese that potential problems are unlikely to materialize or, if they do, the consequences are unlikely to be severe enough to merit preventive measures. That is one reason an event like this, which attracted more than 1,000 spectators, or others on a much larger scale, are held without organizers having effective emergency plans.
The chaotic scene of victims waiting hours for ambulances without first aid treatment, the lack of emergency medical resources, such as personnel and equipment, the hospitals’ struggle to cope with the sudden influx of victims and the failure to provide relatives with timely and accurate information on victims have all cast doubt on the nation’s capability to effectively carry out a massive rescue operation.
Yesterday afternoon, about 44 hours after the explosion, a mother, whose 20-year-old daughter is the first casualty, cried out for help because her 12-year-old son, suffering burns to over 80 percent of his body, is still at a hospital that lacks facilities to treat burn patients. Her daughter was finally admitted to a hospital with a burn center nine hours after the explosion after she was turned away by other hospitals. The chaos caused by the carelessness of certain individuals is beyond imagination.
Life is fragile and public safety cannot be assured by empty words.
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