Chinese chemical plant blast kills 47 people and injures hundreds more.


A massive explosion at a chemical plant in eastern China which has a long record of safety violations has killed at least 62 people and injured hundreds of others, according to state media. The latest report from state broadcaster CCTV said that 28 people remained missing and 26 bodies had been identified. The report added that 34 survivors were critically injured and 60 others were seriously injured. Windows in buildings as far as about six kilometres (four miles) away were blown out by the force of the explosion yesterday afternoon, which caused a magnitude 2.2 seismic shock. The blast in an industrial park in the city of Yancheng, about a three-hour drive north of Shanghai, was one of China's worst industrial accidents in recent years.
At least 640 people have been injured and local hospitals are filled with wounded victims. The Yancheng city government statement said 3,500 medical workers at 16 hospitals and 90 ambulances were mobilised to treat the injured, dozens of whom remained in critical condition. More than 130 victims underwent emergency surgery and 64 medical experts were dispatched to the scene to assist the rescue operation. As of 7am this morning, 18,000 millilitres of blood plasma has been used in the medical treatment of the survivors. Residents in the city are said to have queued overnight to donate their blood. Nearly 1,000 firefighters have been sent to the site to search for survivors, according to a social media statement from the Yancheng government, and have so far rescued 88 people. The explosion occurred at 2:48pm local time yesterday. Rescue efforts are ongoing.
Authorities are yet to confirm the chemicals stored in the factory. In an earlier report, China News claimed the explosion was caused by a liquid compound called benzene, citing a worker at the emergency call centre. Exposure to benzene, which is colourless and odourless, could cause major health issues in humans, including cancer, according to WHO. The local weather condition was said to be windy, which may help the thick smoke, dust and potentially hazardous chemicals to spread. Chinese state-run television showed crushed cars, blown out windows and workers leaving the factory with bloodied heads. Schools were closed and more than 3,000 residents and employees in nearby companies were moved to safety as a precaution against leaks and additional explosions, the Yancheng government said in a statement posted to its microblog today. Officials said they were closely monitoring the local environment. A special team with 12 public health experts was set up and they had collected samples of water and air for lab tests. Excessive levels chemicals were detected in the air as far as 3,500 metres (2.1 miles) from the plant as well as in local waterways, according to environmental officials, adding they had prevented the contaminated waters from entering the irrigation system.

The blast created a crater and 930 firefighters were deployed to extinguish the fire that burned into the night. Around the time of the explosion, China's earthquake administration reported a 2.2-magnitude tremor in Lianyungang, a city near the Yancheng blast. A resident of the community of Chenjiagang about five kilometres (about three miles) from the plant, said neighbours were injured by glass from windows smashed by the blast force.'At the time of the explosion, I was almost deafened and I was terribly frightened,' said the woman, who gave only her surname, Zhi. The blast is reported to have taken place about one kilometre (0.6 miles) away from a kindergarten and 'some children sustained injuries', according to state broadcaster CCTV. It remains unclear if any of the children were among the fatalities.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, on a state visit to Italy, demanded 'all-out efforts' to find and rescue victims, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.'Relief work must be well done to maintain social stability. Meanwhile, environmental monitoring and the early warning should be strengthened to prevent environmental pollution as well as secondary disasters,' the report quoted Xi as saying. Local officials need to learn the lessons of a recent series of industrial accidents to preserve lives and property, Xi said, signalling a likely crackdown on safety at a time when many Chinese firms are being hit by a downturn in sales that is squeezing profit margins.

Yesterday's disaster occurred at a factory run by the Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical. Located among a cluster of chemical factories in Yancheng, it has a dismal safety record: In February 2018, China's State Administration for Work Safety cited 13 types of safety hazards at the company, including the mishandling of tanks of toxic benzene, said to be the source of the explosion. Those violations came despite the plant having racked up 1,790,000 yuan (£203,000, $267,000) in fines since 2016 for violations of environmental regulations, according to a judgment issued by local county and city environmental protection bureaus. Those included improperly dealing with hazardous waste and evading air pollution supervision. A 2017 explosion that killed 10 at a nearby plant prompted China's national safety regulator, the State Administration of Work Safety, to dispatch inspectors. They discovered over 200 safety hazards at chemical factories in Yancheng and four nearby cities, including 13 at the Tianjiayi plant. Safety hazards cited included leaks and drips, employees who didn't understand safety procedures, and a lack of emergency shut-off valves on tanks carrying flammable chemicals. In 2014, the company's chairman, Zhang Qinyue, and Wu Guozhong, its former supply chief, were arrested on suspicion of dumping and burying hazardous waste byproducts near a temple and a village landfill, according to a Jiangsu court criminal judgment. They were convicted in 2017 and the company was fined 1,000,000 yuan (£113,000, $149,000).The cause of the blast was under investigation and people responsible for operations at the plant have been placed 'under control,' Xinhua said. It wasn't clear whether anyone had been formally arrested. State media said the State Council, China's Cabinet, had been ordered to oversee the investigation. China experiences frequent industrial accidents despite orders from the central government to improve safety at factories, power plants and mines. Among the worst accidents was a massive 2015 explosion at a chemical warehouse in the port city of Tianjin that killed 173 people, most of them firefighters and police officers. That blast was blamed on illegal construction and unsafe storage of volatile materials. In November, 23 people were killed and scores of vehicles destroyed in an explosion outside a chemical plant in the northeastern city of Zhangjiakou, which will host competitions in the 2022 Winter Olympics.