At least three people were killed and dozens more injured after fire and several massive explosions tore through a fireworks factory in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi on Wednesday, Chinese state media said on Wednesday.
Video of the explosions showed several fireballs bursting into the sky near Jiangxi's Shangrao city, with people exclaiming each time the blasts rocked the building they were in, amid sounds of smashing glass.
A local resident surnamed Huang was in the area at the time of the blasts.
"The noise was really, really loud," he said. "I thought it was a typhoon; all the glass was tinkling down, shattering, so I thought it was a very strong wind."
"You could hear it for 30 or 40 kilometers all around. People started to scatter as soon as the first blast went off," Huang said.
"[This area] produces fireworks, and this happened before when I was a kid, but it wasn't as big as that," Huang said.
An official who answered the phone at the Yangkou township government offices on Wednesday said local officials are currently investigating the cause of the blasts.
"The accident is still being investigated, but I don't know the details myself," the official said.
"Twenty-one people have been rescued, which is the latest information to be released," the official said.
Photos of the damage sent by local residents to RFA showed shattered windows and shop shutters buckled inwards by the force of the blasts, while the official Xinhua news agency published aerial photos showing an area of factory razed to the ground and still wreathed in smoke.
The blasts came after fire started in warehouses belonging to the Hongsheng fireworks factory near Yangkou township in the Guangfeng district of Shangrao shortly after midnight, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, official media reported.
Online accounts of the blast said it was "like an earthquake" and "terrifying."
One post said government reports that only four people were missing were "ridiculous."
"I heard that more than 100 people were doing overtime in the factory at the time," the tweet said, although RFA was unable to confirm the report.
The Yangkou official said the area is home to around 30 fireworks factories.
But he denied online reports that the factory was full of workers hurrying last-minute orders ahead of Chinese New Year next month, when firecrackers mark the passing of the old year and good fortune in the new year.
"I don't think so," the official said. "If they were rushing an order, then the place would have been full of lots of workers, but there weren't any there last night."
Asked about the reports of more than 100 workers, the official said: "That is a rumor. It's highly unlikely there would be so many people there. [However,] there were likely some staff who needed to be on-site."
The blasts prompted local authorities to evacuate more than 1,000 local residents, and caused damage to nearby buildings, China Radio International reported on its website.
Several Hongsheng company executives have been detained as authorities investigate the cause of the blasts, which happened when most of the workers were off-site, it quoted Guangfeng official Yan Xiangao as saying.
At least 160 people died on Aug. 12 when massive explosions ripped through a hazardous chemicals warehouse in the port area of Tianjin, destroying residential buildings near the epicenter and shattering glass up to five kilometers (three miles) away.
Just days later, at least nine people were injured after a blast ripped through a chemical plant in Zibo city, in the eastern province of Shandong, starting a fire at the Shandong Runxing Chemical Technology Co.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party had ordered nationwide safety checks at all hazardous materials and nuclear facilities in the wake of the Tianjin disaster.
It also launched a crackdown on online "rumor-mongering," ordering the country's tightly controlled media outlets to stick to officially approved news stories on similar events.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.