Seventeen people were killed and 33 others were injured in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong on Wednesday after a series of gas explosions tore through an auto-parts factory.
The explosions ripped through the Fuwa Engineering Manufacturing Co. factory in Foshan city's Shunde district at about 9:30 a.m., official Chinese media reported.
Three of the injured were seriously injured, while three are in critical condition, China's Xinhua news agency quoted local officials as saying.
The explosions, which were described by Xinhua as "gas blasts," occurred while the factory was closed for cleaning, it said.
An employee who answered the phone at a company nearby said he had heard the blasts.
"I was working at the time, and we heard two huge sounds like 'bam, bam!" he said.
A Shunde resident surnamed Liu said he had also heard the blasts from about three miles away.
"There were two or three blasts that sounded as if people were letting off fireworks," Liu said. "After I heard the explosions, then all the police and fire engines vehicles came rushing past."
"The police sealed off several roads after that, so nobody could see what was going on," he said.
According to tweets posted to China's popular Twitter-like service Sina Weibo, ambulances soon began to head to the scene from across the district.
"I am at the Leliu Hospital, and hospitals across the district are sending out ambulances and bringing [the injured] back to the Leliu Hospital," one Weibo user tweeted on Wednesday.
"A lot of people are coming into the emergency room, which is like a battlefield of blood and flesh," the user wrote.
But an employee who answered the phone at the Fuwa factory on Wednesday declined to comment.
"Sorry, I don't know about this," the employee said.
Founded in 1997, Fuwa makes trailer axles and chassis components and had been slated to pour some 2.26 billion yuan (U.S. $370 million) into brand-new facilities in Foshan.
Local officials blamed the accident on failings in health and safety procedures at the plant, Xinhua said, citing the presence of "combustible materials" and few fire extinguishers at the existing facility.
Several workers told Xinhua they rarely received fire control training, it said.
China routinely sees large-scale industrial accidents, with an estimated 57,000 people killed in 269,000 accidents in the first 11 months of 2014, according to government figures.
The blast came just two days after China's cabinet, the State Council, vowed to punish 35 officials, including a mayor and a deputy provincial governor, in connection with a factory blast in the eastern province of Jiangsu in August.
The Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Plating blast was one of China's worst-ever industrial accidents, according to the Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin (CLB) rights group.
According to CLB, China had previously put the Kunshan death toll at 75, but has now reported that it was nearly double that figure at 146.
Guangdong-based labor rights activist Lin Dong said workplace safety is a continuing concern for the workforce, which lacks representation by any independent union.
"Workplace safety isn't fully protected in China, and there are no proper channels through which to make their concerns known if workers do become aware of a safety hazard in their work environment," Lin told RFA.
"[They have no way to] make their voices heard and no way to improve safety, which eventually leads to tragedies like this one," he said.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ho Shan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.