Other plants in Beihai city closed for inspections

Seven people have died, one is missing, and at least 46 were injured in an explosion at a fireworks factory in the southern Chinese region of Guangxi.

The blast, at the Gongguan Export Fireworks Plant in Beihai city, occurred at 4:48 p.m. Tuesday. Rescue efforts were continuing but were hampered by fears of unexploded fireworks hidden in the rubble.

"I heard a loud explosion and looked out the window," said one woman who lives near the factory. "What I saw was like a battlefield scene on television--but worse than that. Lots of smoke. I was afraid the building would collapse, so I picked up my child and rushed out."

The blast occurred at the largest fireworks factory in Beihai, which employs 1,300 people. Soon afterward, the city government ordered all other fireworks plants in the city to close pending safety inspections.

Another woman, whose sister-in-law worked at the factory, said employees had urged management to close the factory for a few days to conduct safety checks. "They didn't want to stop production," she added.

"I was in the workshop when it happened," said another woman, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

"I was so afraid that I ran and ran without even turning my head to look. Everybody was running. I ran all the way home."

The blasts are the latest in a series of fireworks-related explosions across the country. China is the world's largest fireworks producer, manufacturing mostly for export.

Last month, authorities in the southeastern coastal province of Fujian suspended a county government leader, a county police chief, and other officials from duty for their role in two fatal fireworks factory blasts in a single month. The blasts in Minhou county on July 31 and Aug. 26 killed a total of 27 people and injured 67.

China has a poor industrial safety record, with safety regulations frequently flouted by companies hoping to make a quick profit. Accidents often affect low-status migrant workers who are unaware of the hazards they face in the workplace and are less able to stand up for their rights than their better-educated urban counterparts.

According to China's State Administration of Work Safety, 1,671 people were killed in industrial accidents in the first eight months of 2003. A total of 90 serious accidents, such as coal mine flooding or explosions, were reported, which killed at least 10 people each.

Coal mine accidents caused the highest number of casualties, accounting for 766 deaths, compared with just 572 deaths from traffic accidents.


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