Death toll climbs to seven in huge northern China blast

Death toll climbs to seven in huge northern China blast
Death toll climbs to seven in huge northern China blast

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - A large suspected gas explosion at a building in northern China has left at least seven people dead and dozens more injured, state media reported today. — AFP pic

SANHE (China), March 14 — A large suspected gas explosion at a building in northern China has left at least seven people dead and dozens more injured, state media reported today.

The blast occurred just before 8.00am yesterday, state broadcaster CCTV said, in a residential area in the city of Sanhe, Hebei province, less than 50 kilometres east of the centre of Beijing.

Local authorities reported early Thursday that the death toll had climbed from two to seven, with 27 others injured, state outlet Xinhua reported.

Footage online circulated by state media showed a huge explosion that sent plumes of smoke and fire across a busy road.

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CCTV reported Wednesday afternoon that the fire had been extinguished.

The explosion was suspected to have been caused by a gas leak at a fried chicken shop, state media reported.

Two large buildings were completely destroyed in the blast, footage shared by the broadcaster showed, with rescue teams seen hauling away a car hit by the explosion.

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Rescue workers can also be seen carrying away a large gas canister.

Journalists were prevented from reaching the blast site by local officials, who at times physically manhandled reporters attempting to approach the area.

Footage circulating on social media showed a team from CCTV being prevented from filming a live broadcast near the location of the explosion, with officials heard saying the scene remained dangerous.

In response to the incident, the All-China Journalists Association issued a statement Wednesday evening entitled “proper interviews are a journalist’s right” — a rare public showing of support for media rights in the country.

Residents told AFP journalists they had heard a loud explosion before rushing outside to see a plume of smoke rising into the morning air.

“I heard a great big bang... which scared me stiff,” a seller at a local market told AFP.

“Outside, I saw clouds of black smoke,” they added.

Another seller said they also heard a “huge bang” from the blast site, in a bustling area of squat apartment blocks about six or seven floors high.

“The noise was too loud,” a vendor surnamed Wang told AFP, adding she had heard a “second explosion”.

A local man said he did not see the explosion, but when he reached the scene, there was still thick smoke.

Near the scene of the blast, an AFP team observed police waving oncoming traffic away from an entrance to the neighbourhood where the explosion occurred.

From a police cordon of the blast zone, journalists could see a tower of grey smoke a few hundred metres away.

‘Destroyed’

The blast blew out shop facades, footage posted on video-sharing site Douyin showed. The uploader told AFP the explosion took place 200 metres from her home.

Another social media video verified by AFP showed what appeared to be a building that had completely collapsed as well as several destroyed cars and debris strewn across the street.

The local Langfang fire department said 36 emergency vehicles and 154 personnel were dispatched to the scene.

A merchant working at a nearby store told state-run Jimu News she had been in her shop when she heard a bang.

She ran out of her store and saw a fire, she said, adding that the whole building had been “virtually destroyed”.

In a bid to prevent further accidents, a local company temporarily halted the provision of gas to 50 residential compounds and businesses in the area, state-run news outlet China National Radio said.

Explosions and other deadly accidents are common in China due to lax safety standards and poor enforcement.

A recent spate of such accidents has prompted calls from President Xi Jinping for “deep reflection” and greater efforts to stop them.

Last month, at least 15 people were killed and 44 injured in a fire at a residential building in the eastern city of Nanjing.

In January, dozens died after a fire broke out at a store in the central city of Xinyu, with state news agency Xinhua reporting the blaze had been caused by the “illegal” use of fire by workers in the store’s basement.

That fire came just days after a late-evening blaze at a school in central Henan province killed 13 schoolchildren as they slept in a dormitory.

Domestic media reports suggested the fire was caused by an electric heating device.

Last June, an explosion at a barbecue restaurant in the northwest of the country left 31 dead and prompted official pledges of a nationwide campaign to promote workplace safety. — AFP

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