Xi urges all-out rescue efforts for plant explosion that killed 64

By Zhao Yusha and Li Ruohan Source:Global Times Published: 2019/3/22 22:28:40

Safety risks test government’s capability

Smoke is seen billowing from an industrial park in Xiangshui county, East China's Jiangsu Province on Friday, 16 hours after an explosion at a chemical factory. Photo: IC

A chemical explosion in Xiangshui county, East China's Jiangsu Province has claimed 64 lives with dozens critically wounded. The major accident occurred not long after the blast in Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province on November 28, 2018.

As of Friday evening, 34 people were still in critical condition and 28 remain missing. Around 640 are receiving medical treatment in hospitals.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said all-out efforts must be made to search  for those trapped, the injured must be treated immediately, and relief work must be properly done to maintain social stability.

The State Council, China's cabinet, formed an investigation team to probe the deadly explosion.

Officials from China's emergency management, ecology and environment ministries have sent work teams to the site.

The explosion ripped through a factory at the Chenjiagang industrial park at 2:48 pm on Thursday. Beijing Youth Daily reported that benzene was the explosive chemical, and the blast might have been caused by incorrect operations.  

In 2007, an explosion at the Chenjiagang industrial park killed eight and injured over a dozen others.

Fire at three storage tanks and five other places were extinguished by 7 am on Friday. Around 930 firefighters rushed to Xiangshui for rescue work after the explosion.

Shockwaves from the explosion smashed windows from nearby buildings and homes, witnesses told the Global Times. 

A witness, Zhang Weibin, told the Global Times that there was a bad odor close to the explosion site on Friday afternoon. 

He said the explosion was like an earthquake, saying his car shook when it occurred. 

Nitrogen oxide levels in the air were double the normal level. Rivers around the explosion were contaminated and have been sealed off, said Jiangsu's environment authorities.  

Over 3,000 company employees and residents from nearby villages were evacuated. Schools and kindergartens suspended classes after the explosion, according to the website of the Yancheng government, which administers Xiangshui county. 

Problematic company 

The plant belongs to Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical Company. Established in 2007, it was punished in 2015 for failing to put warning signs on hazard waste.

From 2016 to 2018, Tianjiayi received six administrative punishments from Xiangshui's environment bureau for air pollution and discharging waste against rules, news site jiemian.com reported. 

Information on China's Ministry of Emergency Management's website shows that the company was urged to rectify 13 safety hazards during an inspection in February 2018, including the lack of warning signs and contingency measures for benzene leaks. 

A local court slapped a fine of 1 million yuan ($149,000) on the company in January 2017 for contaminating the environment. It also sentenced the company's chairman Zhang Qinyue to 18 months in jail with a two-year probation, Beijing Youth Daily reported. 

The company's problematic history has triggered wide concern and criticism online, with netizens urging stricter management. 

"Those problematic factories should be shut down immediately until safety hazards are completely cleared. The lives of firefighters, staff and residents are not a joke," wrote Sina Weibo user TheLancet-Vivian. 

"The pain of losing family members could last a lifetime, and it should be a strong warning that safety always comes first and should not be sacrificed for profits or political progress," said net user "Wangyi."

A total of 728 people have died in 620 chemical accidents in China from 2016 to 2018, with the most frequent accidents being explosions and intoxication, The Beijing News reported Friday. 

"It's not the fault of the chemical factory or the industry, but those who fail to do their job right and ignore safety regulations," said net user "Xianli" from Nantong, Jiangsu.

"The management of raw materials, as well as production supervision, storage and transportation of chemical products must be strictly implemented to prevent safety hazards, and people who violate standards should be held accountable. That's what we need to pay attention to, instead of running away from developing industry after the incident," said Zhi Zhenfeng, a legal expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Zhi told the Global Times as society develops, the public cares more about the results and efficiencyof social governance, and is more critical and alert of formalism and bureaucratism.

There's no doubt that those responsible for the accident will be held accountable, while the local government's approach to addressing similar emergency cases should be improved and must immediately respond to situations the public cares most about, experts said. 

Gao Yin contributed to this story


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