Nanjing Blast Toll Rises

Residents say state-run media provide limited information on the disaster.
2010-07-29
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Nanjing_explosion3_305.jpg
Post-blast devastation at a former factory in Nanjing.
Courtesy of a local resident.

HONG KONG—Authorities in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing said the death toll from a massive gas explosion at a plastics factory was still rising with the discovery of more bodies under the rubble.

"My home is about one kilometer away," said a local resident surnamed Han, referring to the site of the former Nanjing No. 4 Plastics Factory.

"At least 10 panes of glass were blown out in our home immediately when the blast went off," he said.

"There were quite a lot of people injured. The police and the emergency teams are all at the scene doing rescue work."

The blast was triggered by salvage teams excavating the site, who breached a propylene gas pipe with a mechanical digger, according to official reports.

Officials say at least 13 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the explosion, which tore through a disused plastics factory in the Qixia district of the city Wednesday.

"There was a huge blast," said an eyewitness surnamed Wei. "It felt like an earthquake."

"The nearby buildings were smashed and scattered. There was damage within a radius of about two square kilometers."

The blast shattered glass in densely packed residential districts around the site in the northern part of the city, with a nearby bus destroyed by a subsequent fire, state media reported.

However, local residents said state-run media reports were limited to brief coverage of the disaster.

"There was a report on the midday news," said a Nanjing resident surnamed Zhang. "But it didn't really give an understanding of what the situation was like [inside the site]."

"You are unlikely to get much idea from the official media," he said. "You had better ask the ordinary residents what is really going on."

Higher death toll

Chinese social media website "Campus Insider" was abuzz with rumors that the true number of deaths was closer to 80 people, with some quoting numbers as high as 200.

The fire was put out early Thursday and rescuers found three more bodies when clearing the debris, the official Xinhua news agency quoted rescue headquarters as saying.

Media reports said at least 120 people had been taken to hospital, 14 of them in critical condition. Local television reports said there was a shortage of blood for transfusions, and called on local people to donate.

"I think they must have already sent out an order," one local resident who had been to visit the disaster site said.

A health-care worker who answered the phone at the Nanjing Drum Tower Hospital said many of its doctors had rushed to the scene to help the injured, but declined to comment further.

A doctor at the People's Armed Police Hospital declined to comment because she was in the middle of the emergency room.

"Please call back later," she said. "I am treating a patient right now."

Some less serious injuries were also being seen to at the Chinese and Western Medicine Hospital, an employee there said.

"We have had three cases, two of light external injuries. One is being kept in hospital for observation," the employee said.

Police have arrested four people, including three construction contractors and one official at the factory responsible for the safety of the dismantling work, according to the official Xinhua news service.

Calls to the Nanjing municipal government offices and propaganda department went unanswered during office hours Wednesday.

Original reporting in Cantonese by Li Li and Bat Tze-mo, and in Mandarin by Tang Qiwei. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated from the Chinese and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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