Trail of destruction
Soldiers and workers cleaning up a road ripped open by the gas explosion in Kaohsiung. - AFP
KAOHSIUNG: Residents of a Taiwanese neighbourhood rocked by deadly gas explosions accused the authorities of not acting quickly enough and called for the relocation of industrial pipelines running underneath the island’s densely populated second city.
The blasts sparked massive fires which tore through Kaohsiung’s Cianjhen district late Thursday, killing at least 27 and leaving a yawning trench running for hundreds of metres down a series of major thoroughfares.
The blasts were so powerful that cars were flipped over while a moped landed on the roof of a five-storey building. Nearly 300 people suffered injuries, including serious burns, during the explosions and subsequent inferno.
As rescuers continued the grim search for human remains buried under the rubble, many residents accused the authorities of acting too slowly to stop the gas leaks, which locals said were first reported three hours before the explosions struck shortly before midnight.
“I think the authorities didn’t handle this well, if they had turned off the pipelines right away there would not have been any explosion that followed,” resident Lin Chung-hua said.
“The tragedy could have been prevented if the source of the leak was located at the first possible time and the pipelines had been shut down,” added a 60-year-old restaurant owner, who declined to give his name.
Kaohsiung lies adjacent to a huge petrochemical complex housing dozens of plants and many pipelines run under the densely packed city.
Lin, whose shop lies on one of the streets torn apart by the blast, said he wanted the pipelines relocated.
“The pipelines were installed many years ago when our neighbourhood was not densely populated but now there are so many people living here. Of course, they have to be removed because they are unsafe,” he said.
Kaohsiung’s city government has defended its handling of the crisis, saying it was “racing against time” and had carried out the correct measures once the leaks were reported.
Officials have said some evidence indicated that a propene leak from the pipe system of LCY Chemical Corp might have caused the multiple gas explosions.
The company has pledged to cooperate with the investigation into the incident.
President Ma Ying-jeou inspected the disaster site and was expected to pay his respects to the deceased at a local funeral home and visit some of the injured in hospital.
Religious rituals were held at the site for grieving relatives to appease the spirits of their loved ones, as they held incense sticks while monks chanted prayers.
The United Daily News quoted an unnamed firefighter who said the pipelines should have been shut down sooner.
Four firefighters who rushed to the scene after residents smelled gas were among those killed in the blasts while rescuers were searching for two others still unaccounted for.
The death toll increased as rescuers and soldiers dug up a badly burned body buried under rocks and debris early yesterday.
Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu said the tragedy had “shocked residents tremendously” as she called on the central government to review the city’s network of pipelines.
“I instructed relevant units to thoroughly inspect the pipelines and call for the central government to review how to properly locate them so residents do not live under invisible threats and to prevent another tragedy,” she said in a statement.
Premier Jiang Yi-huah said flags would be flown at half-mast at government offices and schools across the island from Tuesday for three days to mourn the victims of the blasts and the air crash.
Various local companies have pledged donations for disaster relief, including tech giants Foxconn and Acer. — AFP