BEIJING — Underground explosions devastated a district of Taiwan's second-largest city, Kaohsiung, early Friday morning, killing at least 24 people and injuring 271.
The blasts, likely caused by a gas leak, were so powerful that rescuers found a car and injured survivors on the top of buildings three to four stories tall, reported Taiwan's state Central News Agency.
Television footage showed craters and trenches in roads throughout Cianjhen District. Residents looked for victims in shattered shopfronts, while rescuers pulled the injured from the rubble of a road and put them on stretchers.
The National Fire Agency said four firefighters were among the dead. They had been investigating reports of a gas leak at the time of the explosions, said CNA.
Witnesses said cars and motorcycles were blown high up in the air, in some cases severely injuring those riding the vehicles, the news agency reported Friday. A red sedan was found stuck on a corrugated metal roof on top of a three-story building, and two survivors were discovered, conscious, on the top of a four-story building and rushed to hospital, said CNA.
At least five blasts shook the city, said Taiwan's Premier Jiang Yi-huah. Chang Jia-juch, the director of the Central Disaster Emergency Operation Center, said the leaking gas was most likely propene, which would complicate rescue efforts as water cannot extinguish the resulting fires, forcing emergency workers to wait until the gas was burnt up.
Propene is a petrochemical material, not for public use, Chang said.
Kaohsiung, Taiwan's largest port, is also a center for the petrochemical industry. City Mayor Chen Chu said several petrochemical companies have pipelines built along the sewage system in the district.
The disaster was the second to strike Taiwan in just over a week, after 48 people died after a plane that took off from Kaohsiung crash landed on Penghu Island.