Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-08-02 03:06 PM
Explosions starting just before midnight Thursday tore apart several roads in the harbor city’s Chienchen District, causing massive destruction to roads, homes and cars. Hundreds of households were displaced and schools and offices in the Chienchen and Lingya districts were closed Saturday for the second day running.
Rescue workers found the body of a 75-year-old man Saturday morning, making him the 27th victim of the disaster. During the afternoon, the body of another man was pulled out from under the rubble at a small restaurant, which was likely to raise the official death toll to 28, media reports said.
Two senior firefighters who were missing had still not been found by Saturday afternoon, even though earlier reports Friday said there had been signs of life under the rubble. Some firefighters’ clothing was found and some remains which were later diagnosed as non-human, reports said.
President Ma Ying-jeou traveled to Kaohsiung Saturday afternoon to inspect the site of the blasts, address the rescue workers, and visit the injured at a hospital.
As to the cause of the disaster, the Kaohsiung City Government was pointing fingers at the LCY Chemical Corp., which on Friday held two news conferences to deny it was responsible. There were five pipelines running through the area, either carrying gas or propene, a highly flammable chemical product. All five companies denied involvement in the explosions, saying their pipelines were still intact, were the wrong size, or had not registered any lowering of pressure levels which would indicate a leak.
Kaohsiung City Environmental Protection Bureau chief Chen Chin-der said the company failed to notify the authorities about problems with its pipeline and did not apply for the supplier, China General Terminal and Distribution Corporation, to shut down the line for three hours, doing so only shortly before the explosions occurred.
An estimated 3.77 metric tons of propene leaked between 8 and 9 p.m., but the pipeline was not shut off until 11:40 p.m., allowing a concentration of 13,000 parts per million to build up, Chen said.
Environmental officials said the disaster was unlikely to have been caused by problems with the other companies’ pipelines.
Prosecutors had accessed computer records at the companies in an effort to help them determine whether the explosions were the results of old pipelines or of careless excavation work.
During Thursday evening, just hours before the disaster, residents of the area reported a strong gas smell, but the authorities reportedly told them there was nothing to worry about.
In the wake of the calamity, money and goods flowed into Kaohsiung, with businesses and entertainers making donations and companies offering food and shelter to the displaced population. The total of financial donations had reached NT$500 million (US$16.6 million), reports said.
Kaohsiung City Mayor Chen Chu apologized to the residents, adding she would insist with the central government that the location of all pipelines be made known, because that was the only way the public could find peace again.
The city said it would give NT$3 million (US$100,000) to the family of each deceased victim and NT$100,000 (US$3,300) to each hospitalized victim.
In the wake of the explosions, 5,760 households had lost power, 23,600 went without gas and 13,500 without water, the Ministry of Economic Affairs said. Repair work to the homes could not start until the area was deemed safe to work in, according to the MOEA.
The central government announced Thursday it would fly all flags on official buildings at half-mast August 5-7 to commemorate the victims of both the Kaohsiung explosions and the July 23 TransAsia Airways crash on Penghu which killed 48 people.