A series of powerful gas blasts killed at least 25 people and injured up to 267 before dawn today in Greater Kaohsiung, overturning cars and ripping up roads as terrified residents fled an inferno.
The explosions sparked massive fires which tore through the Cianjhen District (前鎮), leaving a yawning trench running for hundreds of meters down the middle of a major thoroughfare and littering the streets with dead bodies.
Dramatic video footage captured by dashboard cameras inside cars showed multiple blasts and pillars of flame erupting from manholes as drivers frantically tried to avoid being engulfed.
In its latest update, the National Fire Agency said the blasts killed at least 25 people and revised the number of injured to 267. Four firefighters who rushed to the scene after residents smelled gas were among those killed in the blasts.
The explosions, believed to have been triggered by gas leaking from underground pipelines, were powerful enough to upturn whole cars and split open
paved roads. One street had been ripped along its length, swallowing several
fire engines and other vehicles.
Witnesses reported seeing bodies strewn across the streets.
“I saw fire soaring up to possibly 20 stories high after a blast and fire engines and cars being blown away while around 10 bodies lay on the street,” eyewitness Johnson Liu said.
Local television aired footage from a dashboard camera capturing a loud explosion which tore up the road in front of a blue truck as it waited at a junction. Rocks and debris could be seen showering down on the street before the footage faded to black.
A second dashboard camera uploaded online showed a car frantically making a U-turn after the initial explosion only to hurtle towards another inferno coming up from beneath the road.
“I’m scared to death”, one of the occupants was recorded saying. “It’s like a bombing, let’s hurry.”
Residents were seen carrying the injured on makeshift stretchers as ambulances rushed to the scene and firefighters in yellow overalls began removing bodies from the area.
“The explosions were like thunder and the road in front of my shop ripped open. It felt like an earthquake,” the Central News Agency (CNA) quoted a witness as saying.
The fire agency said 22 firefighters were among the injured and two were unaccounted for.
“The local fire department received calls of gas leaks late Thursday and then there were a series of blasts around midnight affecting an area of 2 to 3 square kilometers,” the fire agency said in a statement.
A city government official said the blazes had mostly been extinguished or burned themselves out by mid-day, but a few fires were continuing. City authorities said they had sealed off 6km of road.
Residents described how the neighborhood smelt strongly of gas before the disaster.
One local resident surnamed Peng said: “There was a heavy odor of gas and ... then I heard explosions and saw fire spurting from a store.”
“My house shook as if there were an earthquake and the power went out,” CNA quoted her as saying.
Emergency rooms in city hospitals were packed with casualties and officials warned that the death toll was expected to rise.
The city government was evacuating more than 1,100 residents from the affected areas to schools and shelters as they tried to locate the source of the leaks and warned people to stay away.
The Ministry of National Defense dispatched about 1,400 soldiers to the scene to help with the disaster effort.
It is not the first time Kaohsiung has experienced a fatal gas blast. In 1997, an explosion killed five people and injured around 20 when a team from Chinese Petroleum Corp, Taiwan (中油) tried to unearth a section of gas pipeline in a road construction project.
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