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Dozens dead as Taiwan gas explosions tear up streets

By Euan McKirdy and Shelby Lin Erdman, CNN
September 4, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
A downtown district of the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung was ripped apart by gas explosions just before midnight on Thursday, July 31. A downtown district of the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung was ripped apart by gas explosions just before midnight on Thursday, July 31.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Powerful blasts rip through southern Taiwanese city's streets
  • Gas leaks are suspected as the cause of the explosions
  • At least 26 people have died, with hundreds more injured

(CNN) -- A downtown district of the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung was ripped apart just before midnight Thursday by a series of explosions that killed at least 26 people and injured hundreds more, state news agency CNA reported.

The blasts, which were triggered by underground gas leaks, tore trenches through main roads, overturned cars and trucks, and sent flames leaping into the air in the city's Cianjhen district.

Witnesses said they saw vehicles flung into the air by the force of the explosions; one car was found on the roof of a three-story building.

Zong Han-Li was driving when the explosion happened directly in front of him, and his dashboard camera caught the moment the gas ignited.

Area of city affected by blasts  Area of city affected by blasts
Area of city affected by blastsArea of city affected by blasts
Bird's eye view of explosion aftermath

"The video went black after a rock struck the dash cam and dislocated it," he told CNN. "I was scared that more rocks will follow, so I opened the door and looked around for help. I was very fortunate the driver's door was not stuck.

"The explosion left a trench 2 meters deep. Some vehicles were blasted into the air, and some people fell into the trench. It was a devastating scene.

Read: Gas explosions rip through city

"It was very loud when the explosion happened, (and) debris was blasted into the sky. Motorcycles were tossed as high as three stories. Everyone came out to help because there were already injuries."

Two people were blown to the roof of a four-story building, where emergency workers found them and took them to the hospital, CNA reported.

Firefighters from neighboring cities rushed to Kaohsiung to help battle several fires, which had been mostly contained by Friday morning.

Some vehicles were blasted into the air, and some people fell into the trench. It was a devastating scene.
Zong Han-Li, witness

At least 26 people were killed, including four firefighters. Twenty-two emergency workers were among 267 people injured, officials said. A number of people were still missing, including a senior fire official who went to investigate reports of a gas leak.

As daylight broke, the extent of the damage became clear, with wrecked cars and motorcycles strewn across the cratered streets.

Dave Flynn, an English expatriate who has lived in the city for several years, visited the site of the explosions Friday morning. He said a huge trench had been gouged along the length of a main thoroughfare for several kilometers, and the pavement had been thrown to the side of the road, damaging vehicles.

Kevin Thom surveyed the damage hours after the explosions.
Kevin Thom surveyed the damage hours after the explosions.

"There were police cordons on the major intersections, but they were just stopping vehicles," he said. "Most of the side streets, you could just walk into the area, and it was full of pedestrians checking out what had happened. I saw people fixing their own houses, and I saw the army arrive, some trucks to clean up some of the (wrecked) cars."

Schools and offices in the Cianjhen district, as well as in the neighboring Lingya district, were closed Friday to facilitate rescue efforts, Mayor Chen Chu said. Several schools and a cultural center are being used as emergency shelters.

Authorities suspect ethylene, propane or butane in the explosions. There are several petrochemical factories in the region.

The government called up hundreds of soldiers to assist in search and rescue efforts.

CNN's Vivian Kam and Esther Pang contributed reporting.

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