One year after a massive chemical warehouse explosion ripped through the northern Chinese port of Tianjin leaving more than 170 people dead, at least 21 people have been reported dead in an explosion at a power plant in the central province of Hubei.
At least 21 people were killed and five others injured, three seriously, after a steam pipe exploded at the Madian Ganshi Power Generation Co. in Hubei's Dangyang city, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The injured were rushed to hospital and rescue work is still under way after the blast, which happened at around 3 p.m. local time, it said.
Photos published by state media showed fire hoses spraying a tower engulfed in flames and a massive plume of reddish-brown smoke trailing away from an area resembling an industrial park.
The new blast came as China marks the first anniversary of the Tianjin disaster on Aug. 12, 2015, with many victims still afraid to move back into their old homes, local residents told RFA.
A resident surnamed Pan of the Qihang Gardens residential complex, one of 17,000 households affected by the blast, said he and his family is still waiting to move back into its apartment.
"My apartment in Qihang Gardens was damaged, and they are still refurbishing it," Pan said. "Now they are planting trees and making a green space [in the blast area]."
But he said some residents are loath to return, fearing lingering chemical contamination from the accident.
"To put it bluntly, a lot of people are worried by the fact that the explosion even happened," Pan said. "A lot of people died."
"The government is ordering us to move back in, but so far not a single family has moved back into Qihang Gardens or [neighboring] Haigangcheng," he said.
The Aug. 12 explosions ripped through a hazardous chemicals warehouse in the Binhai port area of the city, destroying residential buildings near the epicenter and shattering glass up to five kilometers (3.1 miles) away.
Plans to transform the area into an "eco-park" have hit snags as the authorities struggle to clean up local pollution after toxic chemicals including sodium cyanide were pumped into the atmosphere by the fire and subsequent blasts.
Pan said the city authorities' planned "ground zero" park to memorialize those who died still looks "like a huge mess."
"Of course it's polluted, and they are not done cleaning it up yet," he said.
According to Pan, many local residents have since quietly taken advantage of government repurchasing offers to offload their apartments.
A second local resident surnamed Feng said the blast has left the area with a blighted feeling in many people's minds.
"Since the explosion, a lot of apartments have been up for rental because their owners don't want to live there," she said.
"I think that once the refit is complete, a lot of people will go back there to live, but there will always be some who will never go back," Feng said.
Hit by a bomb?
Local residents initially believed they had been hit by a bomb, Chinese media said on Thursday ahead of the anniversary.
The first of the two explosions measured 2.3 on the Richter scale for seismic activity, while the second that followed 30 seconds later was 28 times as powerful, equivalent to 450 metric tons of TNT, the Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party, reported.
Among the dead were 104 firefighters and 11 police officers, making the blasts the worst disaster for rescue services in the history of the People's Republic, it said.
In the immediate aftermath, pollution fears grew as the government confirmed that 40 different toxic chemicals were in the vicinity, including 700 metric tons of sodium cyanide.
Ten executives at Ruihai International Logistics were arrested after the company was found to have handled dangerous chemicals without a license for eight months and failed to train staff adequately to handle hazardous chemicals.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.